Ramadan in coastal Kenya, Zanzibar
Replies: 12 - Last Post: Jun 19, 2013 12:24 AM Last Post By: phil_b
Jun 13, 2013 8:37 PM
Ramadan in coastal Kenya, ZanzibarWe will be in coastal Kenya/Zanzibar from July 9 to July 15, right when Ramadan starts.
All the guidebooks recommend staying away during Ramadan! Oh well.
We are a family of four with kids 15 and 11, we do not need nightlife but we do need to eat during the day.
Can anyone tell me if we will have a hard time finding restaurants markets etc able to help us during the daytime?
Granted we will be in tourist zones (Pongwe Zanzibar, Stone Town Zanzibar, Mombasa, overnight train to Nairobi) but we have a Type 1 diabetic with us who will HAVE to eat during the day.
Needless to say I am bringing peanut butter and energy bars.... but any other suggestions would be appreciated.
Thank you very much.
Jun 13, 2013 10:18 PM
can't speak for Zanzibar but you will have no problems at all at the coast in Kenya. It is true that the majority of the Muslim population of Kenya live in the coast province, where they form about 50% of the population, but only the smaller local shops, cafes and restaurants close for Ramadam.
As a tourist you should not be affected at all, it's business as usual for the supermarkets, bigger shops, larger restaurants, and all the tourist hotels, tourist bars and restaurants, etc.
It's actually a busy time for markets as the Muslims like to feast after sundown, so lots of special foods, fruits, treats, etc appear in the markets (a bit like Christmas time) in the west)
Jun 13, 2013 10:21 PM
2In Mombasa/Nairobi it's absolutely no problem. You will find plenty of restaurants open. Markets are open and you find even more fruits and vegetables than at other times. Myself, I live in Lamu Island which is muslim predominated but even in Lamu you find a few restaurants which are open during the day. Myself, I like the special atmosphere of Ramadhan. My only recommendation is, please do not eat in public areas during the day. Thank you.
Jun 14, 2013 6:59 AM
Jun 14, 2013 8:28 AM
4Christopher, one of these two Zanzibar guidebooks was clear in its recommendation to stay away during Ramadan:
either Tanzania & Zanzibar / by David Watson
or Northern Tanzania with Kilimanjaro and Zanzibar : the Bradt Safari guide / Philip Briggs.
(I have returned them both to the library so I can't check.)
I had assumed that since coastal Kenya is also largely Muslim, that the same admonition would apply. But clearly we will have no problems finding sustenance, in fact we may fare better than during other times.
Jun 14, 2013 2:05 PM
5You will have no problems in Zanzibar. Local restaurants will be closed during the day, and it isn't very respectful to eat in public during that time, but you will find plenty of tourist restaurants, which usually have eating areas out back or otherwise shielded from public view where you can eat absolutely normal. Your hotel will also serve you breakfast.
Btw, people who are sick and cannot fast for medical reasons are not expected to - Muslim or not. Still, I would recommend being a bit discrete about it.
But there is absolutely no reason to stay away from Zanzibar during Ramadhan (I will be thre myself at that time!).
Jun 14, 2013 3:34 PM
6Thanks Lydia, I'll check out those two books. If they are really telling tourists to leave the area during Ramadan then they have no business doing so and will receive a sharp note from me. Even the embassies don't go to that extreme.
Since the attacks of 1998 (targeting US embassies) and 2002 (targeting Israelis), I cannot recall a single instance of a politically-motivated attack on a Westerner by a Muslim in Kenya or Tanzania, during Ramadan or any other time. Muslims have been behind some recent attacks in coastal Kenya, but they tend to be carefully aimed at Kenyan targets such as police stations, and they seem to go out of their way to avoid involving Western tourists.
On the subject of eating, Muslims don't expect observance from non-Muslims and I wouldn't go to the unnecessary discomfort of fasting out of the fear of offending someone - you won't.
All in all, the issues surrounding Muslim sensitivities in places like Lamu, Mombasa and Zanzibar tend to be over-dramatized. Nude bathing and gay weddings are not on. But apart from that there is a surprising degree of friendliness and tolerance. I have dated a couple of Muslim ladies there so I have a pretty good finger on the cultural pulse.
Jun 14, 2013 10:24 PM
Jun 15, 2013 1:37 AM
8I agree with Christopher that things are often overdramatized and that generally, people there (Zanzibar) are tolerant towards non-Muslims and their customs - but expect the same from you: For example you are not expected to cover from head to toe as a woman, but shoulders and knees (and everything in beween) should be covered, at least in town. Same for eating, drinking, smoking during Ramadhan: You are not expected to fast as a non-Muslim, but especially in central Stonetown it would be quite rude to eat and drink in front of people who are fasting, unless they serve you in a restaurant etc. People may not always show you their disapproval openly, but believe me, they do not approve of it, just as they may not attack woman walking through town in hot pants and bikini tops (yes, some people do that), but still not approve of it.
As for the inconveniences: Besides the obvious closing of some restaurants etc., anothe aspect that can cause inconvenience is the fact that during Ramadhan everybody wants to be home in time for the break-fast after sunset, so shops and other places usually close earlier and people may get very impatient with someone delaying them. People also tend to go to the mosque more, so especially on Fridays many shops will be closed for at least an hour or two around mid-day.
On the tourist beaches you won't really notice much if any of these changes.
Jun 15, 2013 5:45 AM
Jun 18, 2013 11:42 PM
10Hi there Lydia,
As author of the Bradt Guide mentioned above (albeit not the Zanzibar chapter, though I have just string-searched the 2nd edition Word file for any mention of Ramadan & can't find one) I'm pretty confident it was not the source of the advice to stay away from Zanzibar at this time of year.
Personally, having travelled extensively on the coast of Kenya and Tanzania since the 1980s, and written several guidebooks to both countries, I would have no hesitation travelling there during Ramadan. It is true that you might find eating out options are more limited in some out-of-the-way places where restaurants cater almost exclusively to a local (Islamic) clientele, but that would not be the case anywhere catering more to tourists!
And there are loads of shops & stalls in places like Zanzibar and Mombasa where you could buy snacks like biscuits, fruit etc.
So not sure where this advice came from , but I don't think you have anything to worry about!
Jun 19, 2013 12:01 AM
This is not really true for Zanzibar, unless you regard the whole of central Stonetown as an "out-of-the-way place". To give you some examples, last year besides the typical local eateries, many other places were closed as well, amongst them the Archipelago restaurant, Buni Café, Stonetown Café, all of them places owned and run by local people but catering mainly to tourists or foreign residents.
There are still plenty of places to find food, a nice new café / restaurant not far from the Serena with a beautiful eating area out back facing the water for example, or the Zanzibar Coffee House.
Jun 19, 2013 12:24 AM
12Sorry, Stefo, just to clarify, I meant 'out of the way places' in the more general sense, not on an individual restaurant by restaurant basis. As in, you might genuinely find it hard to find an open restaurant during Ramadan somewhere like Kilwa or Pangani or Pate.
Briefly, with respect to Lydia's main question (will we have a hard time finding restaurants markets etc during the daytime?), the answer is that I don't think she has anything to worry about on Zanzibar or Mombasa.
And any advice to the effect tourists should skip these places during Ramadan is not from the Bradt Guide!
Check out all our reviewed and recommended accommodation and book online.