Whether it was from a friend who had visited or through a simple Google search, hammam spas kept popping up when I was researching things to do in Morocco.
And while I’m no spa connoisseur, going to a Moroccan hammam spa seemed like something I had to do on my trip. Here’s what it was like to get naked at one.
What Is a Moroccan Hammam Spa?
Moroccan hammams are part of many Moroccans’ daily life. Similar to a Turkish bath, a public hammam is a steam room where people go to clean themselves. This is usually a weekly ritual and is considered a social activity in villages and towns, with men, women, and children all participating. Baths are separated by gender and many people will spend hours here chatting with friends. While in Islamic culture women are typically covered from head to toe in public, they’re fully naked at hammams.
Upon entering the hammam spa you’ll get a bucket, a mat to lie on, some black soap, and exfoliating gloves (or you can hire someone to exfoliate you) and you essentially clean and exfoliate yourself in large steam rooms among everyone else, using your bucket and water from a tap.
A Moroccan hammam spa at a hotel would be much different. Treatments vary by hotel, but the general process is that you first soak in a pool or sit in a steam room, then you’re rinsed, exfoliated, and massaged. Here are all the dirty details of my experience.
What to Bring to a Moroccan Hammam Spa
Depending on what kind of spa you’re going to, bring a change of underwear and clothes, hairbrush, toiletries, makeup, and flip flops. Each spa is different, but it’s better to be over-prepared than under.
If you’re uncomfortable going totally naked, bring a bathing suit. Some hotel spas will provide paper underwear. Ask when you’re making your reservation what is provided so you can decide beforehand what you’re most comfortable with.
What to Expect at a Moroccan Hammam Spa at a Hotel
The receptionist said “take everything off” when she handed over a robe, paper thong, and flip flops. Obviously if you’re going to a Moroccan hammam spa in Morocco, your spa specialist might not speak English. It was clear this would be the case when my attendant handed me a towel, motioned that I take off my robe, and led me to a steam room after I walked out of the locker room.
I was traveling with a friend, which helped ease some of the awkwardness. We had read in the treatment description that we’d be in the steam room for about 10 minutes, but after what seemed like forever, an attendant came in and gave us water bottles. Unclear if we were able to leave, we stayed in the steam room another 15 to 20 minutes, and ultimately decided to walk out when we couldn’t handle the heat anymore.
The attendants didn’t seem to mind, though looking back they probably thought we were crazy for staying in there so long. They directed us to the hammam’s beautiful (but completely open) mosaic showers. My friend was directed through another opening to a more private shower, and I was asked to take off my towel and paper underwear as I was rinsed off. I was then asked to lay down on a marble slab where my attendant said “henna” (like the tattoo) and applied a thick, brown-blackish paste to my body. After letting my skin absorb this goo, it was back to the shower to be rinsed.
Then came exfoliation. This part of the experience is uniquely Moroccan, and taken very seriously. I was scrubbed with what seemed like sandpaper from head to toe, and think an entire layer of skin came off my body through this process, as I wondered what a normal amount of dead skin to come of was … it felt surprisingly good, but was definitely intense. I’m sure if there wasn’t a language barrier I could have asked her to scrub softer, but I endured it before heading to the shower for yet another rinse.
Next came a calming clay mask. After application, the attendant covered me with a cloth and motioned for me to close my eyes. After about 30 minutes laying on the marble slab, she came back, led me to the shower to rinse off again, and pointed to some provided hair products. I fully showered this time, was (finally) handed a towel, and led to a room where I was asked if I wanted a massage. Unsure if this was included in the price, I politely said no. Instead, she quickly applied lotion over my entire body and handed my robe back.
After an overwhelming but ultimately relieving experience, I followed her to the relaxation room, where a kettle full of mint tea was waiting for me. My friend soon joined and we concluded that we were happy we experienced a Moroccan hammam, but we’d probably never need to do it again. We then headed back to reality in the busy streets of Marrakech … with one less layer of skin.
How to Pick a Moroccan Hammam Spa
Marrakech is known for its hammams, and is one of the best places to get authentic hammam spa treatments in Morocco.
I received my Moroccan hammam spa treatment at La Mamounia, a luxury resort. If you’re looking for a certain level of comfort, book here or at another resort like Royal Mansour (of Instagram fame) or Selman Marrakech. You can easily call or email for a reservation ahead of time, and the spa menu at resorts will be in English. Because the exchange rate is so favorable at the moment, treatments are around $100 USD, which is a deal compared to U.S. and European spa prices.
For a less expensive (under $50) Moroccan hammam spa treatment, book at a riad, a traditional Moroccan home, like Riad les Jardins Mandaline or Riad Camilia. Other traditional hammam options include the popular Hammam de La Rose and Le Bain Bleu, both located in the Marrakech medina.
For the most authentic experience, consider a public hammam spa, like Hammam Dar el-Bacha. It’s the city’s largest traditional hammam with women-only hours in the afternoon and evening.