Traveling to Egypt during Ramadan can be an exciting time to experience a unique aspect and flavour of the culture. Nowhere in the world is it celebrated with such vitality and exuberance as in Egypt.
This holy month promises to bring you immense joy and generosity as locals enthral you in one of the true highlights of the Islamic year.
Traveling to Egypt During Ramadan
Did you know that one of the most common greetings during the month of Ramadan is ‘Ramadan Karim’ which translates to “have a generous Ramadan”? This is without a doubt one of the best ways to explain travel tips to Egypt during Ramadan – be prepared to experience exceptional warmth, hospitality and generosity.
Okay, so let’s dive deeper into the visiting Egypt during the Islamic calendar.
The Islamic (lunar) month of Ramadan moves backwards against the Gregorian calendar by around 10 days each year. This year (2022), Ramadan falls from Saturday, April 2nd (+/- a day) and will continue for 30 days until Monday, May 2nd. All Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset during Ramadan — no eating, drinking or smoking. Working days are made shorter to ensure everyone can get home in time to break their fast with family and friends.
What to expect during Ramadan in Egypt
If you have ever had the privilege of going to Egypt, you will know that the locals are particularly hospitable. Given that this period is about genera constraint and immense generosity, you will immediately encounter these restraints when traveling to Egypt during Ramadan. They are also more than happy to welcome you into all of the celebrations and festivities, which only happen once a year, so it is a definite bucket-list contender.
Everyday life during Ramadan
If you are lucky enough to travel to Egypt during this month-long festival, you will notice that the dynamics of everyday life change during Ramadan. Shops close their doors about two hours before sunset and for another two hours after sunset so that the locals can vacate and go and pray. During these hours you will notice how busy cities transform into a peaceful and quieter space.
However, don’t worry as these spaces will then re-open and remain open until way past midnight. It is a time of evening living for Egyptians, with shops and coffee houses open late at night as people eat and drink into the early morning hours.
Local gatherings during Ramadan
Ramadan is a unique and rewarding experience that is deeply rooted in family and ideas around togetherness. Beautiful, right? Well, these sentiments make for the perfect opportunity for many gatherings of friends and families, locals and visitors. You can bet that almost every day there will be some kind of gathering happening.
Hotels and restaurants throughout the city hold special promotions and shows for “Iftar” (the fast-breaking meal at sunset) and “Sohour” (the pre-dawn meal taken before fasting must begin again at dawn). This means breaking bread, sharing precious moments and having the best time. What more could you want?!
Drinking alcohol during Ramadan
Unlike some other Muslim countries, foreigners in Egypt are still allowed to drink alcohol during Ramadan and can also enjoy restaurants, bars and nightlife as normal. And since about 10 percent of Egypt’s population is Christian, many places still serve food and drink during daylight hours, as well. This makes traveling to Egypt during Ramadan even easier!
Ramadan festivities in Egypt
Festival of lights
At night, you will discover streets decked with festive decorations and coloured lights, particularly around traditional areas such as El-Hussein Mosque, next to the Khan El-Khalili Bazaar. Lanterns, or “Fawanis,” hang from every doorway, a tradition that began during the time of the Fatimids around a thousand years ago.
At that time, lanterns were used to light the way for processions to observe the crescent moon, which marks the beginning of Ramadan, and to announce the start of each day’s fast when the candles in the lanterns burned out at dawn. Nowadays, lanterns have become part of the everyday iconography of Ramadan in Egypt, in much the same way that the Christmas tree symbolizes Christmas in the West.
The Egyptian tradition of elaborate Ramadan feasting and street entertainment at night is thought to have begun sometime in the Eighth Century, when a “Mesaharati” would walk around each neighbourhood. Their job was to wake up the residents in time for Sohour by banging a drum. Later, the role of the Mesaharati would expand to include reciting prayers, singing and storytelling.
Today, the special tents set up around the cities for Ramadan have colourful shows and entertainment for much of the night. Some of these tents are very high-class, elaborate affairs, with plush cushioned furniture and large stages for the performers. They are an excellent way to experience traditional Arabic food and music. Also for the adventurous, it is a good opportunity to sample a bubbling water-pipe or “sheesha” filled with aromatic sweet tobacco.
What delicacies should you try when traveling to Egypt during Ramadan?
Food is definitely an integral part of Ramadan as well as Egyptian culture, so naturally, there are going to be a number of decadent delicacies and specialities for you to enjoy. Whether you are at an iftar table or even at a big Ramadan feast, here are a few things you should defiantly taste.
Kunafa is a delicious Middle Eastern dessert that is not only a very traditional option but a popular choice during the month of Ramadan. It is essentially pieces of shredded pastry that are soaked in syrup. Then layers are formed and filled with either nuts or ricotta cream. However, there are several recipes, even some with Nutella, seasonal fruits etc.
Taken from the Turkish, this light and healthy snack is something that you will witness in many places during your visit to Egypt. This recipe calls for a large variety of dried fruits that are then soaked in warm water to help bring out the flavours and rehydrate the fruit. They are then sprinkled with nutty and rich nut selections.
The decadent sweet treats continue with Atayef, otherwise fondly known as Qatayef. This Middle Eastern sweet treaty is often referred to as a Ramadan speciality. It is made from small pancakes that are stuffed with various fillings. The most popular ones are crème, nuts and dates. They can either be eaten raw or deep-fried with syrup drizzled on the top.
Traveling to Egypt during Ramadan is an experience that you will never forget. The country opens itself up to so many cultural experiences for both locals and visitors that it would be a shame to miss out on a full month of festivities. Essentially, all you need is your ticket, this blog and an adventurous spirit and you are all set for the adventure of a lifetime.