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The Zanzibari population of about 1.3 million people are 95 per cent Muslim, so when you visit this oasis, you will most certainly hear the call to prayer at different points throughout the day. Some people steer away from Zanzibar during Ramadan, the Muslim holy month of fasting, for fear that the oasis won’t quite live up to its reputation during that time. Nothing could be further from the truth, and below are a few tips to enjoy your stay in Zanzibar during Ramadan.
Ramadan requires Muslims to not consume any food or drink, including water, from sunrise to sunset. Although the Zanzibaris understand that tourists may not be fasting, it is recommended to be considerate of those who are fasting by not eating or drinking in public. Carry water with you in a closed bag and drink it in areas where there are not many people, or inside if you can.
A number of restaurants on the main roads are closed until sunset during Ramadan, as the owners are fasting themselves, or out of consideration for those fasting. But fear not – if you are not joining the fast, you can still find some of Stone Town’s best dishes if you know where to look. Look for restaurants that are up at the top of buildings like Emerson Spice, Taperia, Lemongrass, Silk Route and Monsoon; these are open all day and serve delicious dishes. Look back behind the main roads in the winding alleyways as well for cafes like Zanzibar Coffee House.
Restaurants open up again after sunset when those fasting are free to eat again. Enjoy all the culinary delights that Stone Town has to offer in the evening hours. Consider joining an ‘Iftar’ meal as well to experience what most Muslims in Zanzibar eat after a day of fasting.
Zanzibar is a fairly conservative place throughout the year, and it is wise to respect the local culture by dressing modestly, but this is especially important during Ramadan. Women should wear skirts that cover their knees and shirts that cover their shoulders, or use a scarf to cover your shoulders. Men are best dressed in long shorts that cover the knees or trousers. People will feel grateful for the extra effort you make to respect their way of life by choosing to adjust your clothes to fit in.
During the month of Ramadan, families are saving money for ‘Sikukuu’, the celebration at the end of the month of fasting. Much like other religions’ major holidays, gifts are given, children receive new clothes and a feast of delicious food is prepared. Support local businesses by buying souvenirs, going on tours and eating in local restaurants so that people can save for this exciting celebration.
Tours are just as available during Ramadan as any other time, possibly more so. You can visit a spice plantation, Prison Island, do some snorkeling or diving, swim with the dolphins or tour the historical sites of Stone Town. Enjoy all that Zanzibar has to offer and see the beauty of the island.
While in Stone Town, you will need to make a few more adaptations to your touring schedule than other times of the year, but on the beach at local resorts, there is much less need for this. Resorts serve food and drink throughout the day; modest attire is not necessary, and you will not notice that it is Ramadan when you are sipping a cold drink next to the salty ocean.
Greeting people with ‘Ramadan Kareem’ while you are in Zanzibar during Ramadan goes a long way. This acknowledgment of their Holy Month and their fast will be appreciated and received positively. Imagine if you were fasting for over 12 hours every day – a little acknowledgment of the process would go a long way.
A month-long fast ends with a pretty big party! If you can arrange your time to fall in line with ‘Sikukuu,’ you’ll be sure to enjoy the festivities in Stone Town. Forodhani Gardens is a sight to behold with everyone out in their best dress and ready for a feast!
When people have been fasting for most of the day, they inevitably move a little slower. It’s still hot in Zanzibar throughout the year, and a whole day without food or water is no small task. Be patient with slower responses and less enthusiastic customer service. It’s not that people don’t care or are not interested in you, it’s just tough to be energetic in 30-degree Celsius heat at hour 10 of a daily fast.
Zanzibar truly is an oasis in Tanzania, and the slow pace of Ramadan is the perfect time to come and visit the beautiful island. Make a few adjustments to your usual way of travel, and it will be everything you expected, and maybe even a bit more…