While I could describe a Moroccan hammam with such colorless descriptors as “steam room”, or perhaps “bathhouse”, the hammams in Marrakech offer an experience so far flung from a Club Med facial that they really need their own word. Deeply rooted in Morocco’s culture is the hammam experience; it is a place to exchange neighborhood gossip, and for glowing brides to prepare for their wedding days, and for children to flail around with shampoo in their hair in the name of weekly ritual.
As someone who has sought out bathing opportunities in mineral-rich mud, paid to float in salted waters, and wrestled painfully with Thai masseuses, I was fascinated by the prospect of visiting the hammams in Marrakech. So when I finally made it to Morocco, I knew that I had to get hammam’d. Interested in having the experience yourself?
What is a hammam?
While hammams are most famed in Turkey (aka a Turkish bath), you can also find hammams in Spain, throughout the Middle East, the Mediterranean, and Northern Africa. My first hammam experience was in Marrakech, Morocco. A Moroccan hammam is like a Turkish bath, but rather than having cold and hot pools, it is a steam-filled room with tiled benches and water basins for bucket baths. Reminiscent of dorm shower days, guests to the hammam will strip down and split off into gender-separated steam rooms, bringing along rubber mats, scrubbing gloves, oils, and buckets of warm water with which to bathe.
We know what you’re wondering. Most Moroccans will go fully nude, but as an outsider, get a vibe for what everyone else is doing before you commit to nakedness. You’ll want to bring your own towel, a bathing suit (optional), soap, a small bucket, special body scrub (you’ll notice this for sale everywhere!), and a rough glove for the scrub down, though most of this can be rented or purchased there.
what is a hammam like?
You’ll feel dreadfully alone if you haven’t come with a posse of aunties, nieces, and sisters. This means hammams are a great, big, delightfully nude Moroccan extended family affair. Hell, you’ll probably be asked to dinner.
This experience varies tremendously depending on whether you opt for a public or private hammam — we’re talking the difference between getting a massage at a public recenter or an exclusive day spa. As visits to the bathhouses are a part of daily life in Morocco, the public ones are a more authentic yet basic bathhouse. If you opt for the private version, you can expect a higher level of service, a bit more privacy, and of course, a higher price. Depending on the establishment, you can expect to pay between 10-200 MAD for entrance, and more if you plan to get a massage or buy supplies.
Upon arrival to the hammam, someone will be at the front desk to collect your entrance fee. You’ll move through the gender-split changing room and strip down a layer or two. From here, you’ll enter a steamy room. You can stake out a spot on a bench or a mat, fill your bucket a couple of times, and pour it over your head to bathe. If you’re getting a massage, wait in anticipation (or trepidation) for your masseuse to enter… she may instruct you to bend over and put your hands up on the wall or lay face down (both mildly uncomfortable options) while she scrubs you armpit to Achilles in the most aggressive manner imaginable — whatever must be done in the name of exfoliation.
People will typically stay for a couple of hours. When your massage is finished, you can stay to enjoy the steam or head out after a final rinse down.
how face down are we talking?
Without the years of practice, my hammam experience was less of a therapeutic cleansing than I had imagined. I showed up to the public bath house in a gigantic pair of multi-pack, cotton underwear. Unarmed by local language and proper equipment, I spent my spa treatment submerged face down in a shallow puddle of lukewarm water filled with recently sloughed-skin while my masseuse crushed my head to the ground and celebrated the impressive quantities of dead skin she had scrubbed off. This experience can be best reviewed on a sliding scale — I’d give my hammam experience a weak 5-stars for relaxation (8-stars if we’re crediting entertainment value), but I’d imagine you can get a real 9-star experience if you stumble upon the right place. Check out this post with more tips on things to know before visiting Morocco (The World Pursuit) so you don’t end up like me!
wanna experience a hammam yourself?
Where can you visit a hammam? The easiest way to track down a local hammam is to go online or ask your hotel reception desk. As the experience is one of the most interesting things to do in Morocco and a big draw for travelers, this is an easy way to get into some of the nicer places in town. According to a few sources, some of the best hammams in Marrakech are the Heritage Spa and Spa MK. If you’re looking for a more authentic experience, your best route is to inquire with locals you meet along the way or minding the course of towel-wielding groups of ladies.
The cost of Moroccan Hammams: The budget hammams in Morocco cost between 10-200 MAD, but this will be the full on local experience. If you’re looking for something more therepeutic, the spas
KerriMay 13, 2015 at 12:46 am
Hilarious…and quite the visual… A pool of recently sloughed skin..ugh..at least for this one unlike the Thai massage you didn’t have to tap out! Nice writing!