Ramadan: Travel Tips during the Muslim Holy Month

Jun 8, 2015
Each year, more than one billion Muslims around the world observe the holy month of Ramadan, a time devoted to fasting, prayer and charity. For non-Muslim travelers, there are some restrictions and cultural considerations to keep in mind before traveling to a Muslim-majority region during Ramadan. However, those extra efforts can be rewarded with great deals on hotel rooms and travel packages -- plus a unique cultural experience.

What is Ramadan? Ramadan takes place the ninth month of the lunar calendar, which is shorter than the Grecian calendar, so the 30-day period falls over different dates each year. This year the month begins the evening of June 17 and continues until July 17. The month marks when the Quran was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad.

During Ramadan, participants abstain from eating, drinking or smoking from sunup to sundown (with exceptions made for children and health reasons). They also set aside time for prayer, charitable giving and reading the Quran. The fast is broken at the end of each day with a meal called Iftar.

First, the downside of traveling to Islamic countries during Ramadan. Although the level of observance will vary from country to country, most businesses accommodate the fasting by shortening hours and generally slowing down operations. Markets and bazaars that are bustling other times of year may be nearly abandoned, and mosques that usually allow non-Muslim visitors may remain closed to tourists. Nightclubs shut down completely during the month. Daylight dining options may be limited, especially if you stray from the tourist zones, and those that are open likely won’t serve alcohol. Hotel restaurants remain in operation, but may set up a screen to shield people walking past from seeing the food.

However, there are also benefits to visiting during Ramadan. Many businesses follow later hours so that once the sun goes down, the streets and malls come alive with a celebratory atmosphere. Non-Muslim visitors are welcome to participate in the Iftar fast-breaking dinners each night, after which the cities stay awake much later than usual with events and gatherings. Many hotels set up special Ramadan tents for these late-night gatherings.

Ramadan is also a prime opportunity to score hotel deals. As business travel slows down, hotels lower their rates to lure leisure travelers. For instance, the 5-star JW Marriott Marquis Dubai is as low as $150 per night through Travelzoo. The 4-star Mamara Pera in Istanbul has rates for $108 per night, including museum tickets and daily breakfast. Malls and restaurants also offer discounts during this period. Most tourist attractions will operate as normal with only slight variations in their schedules.

If you do travel during Ramadan, be extra sensitive to cultural practices. Show respect by dressing modestly and avoiding eating, drinking or displaying physical affection in public. Also keep in mind that people who have to work during the day will likely be tired and irritable from fasting (just like you would be). Be extra courteous (and consider tipping extra as well!).

Traveling during Ramadan should be seen as not only an opportunity to save money, but as a unique chance to witness and even take part in this important time for Muslims.

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