What It’s Like Experiencing A Traditional Moroccan Hammam

Of all of the traditional beauty treatments around the world, I’ve always been fascinated by a traditional Moroccan hammam. Something about the scrubbing away of the rough layers of yourself to reveal a fresh, glowing version of you is so appealing (pun not intended).

Plus, you come out with the softest skin you’ve ever had in your life.

Experiencing a traditional Moroccan hammam was at the top of my list of things to do in Marrakech when I finally got the chance to visit during my year in Europe

Even though I desperately wanted the experience, I was nervous. Part of the traditional experience involves being naked in a room of other women.

I grew up changing in the bathroom in locker rooms or using a trick my older sister taught me to put new underwear on then remove your old underwear from underneath (a trick that usually ended with my toppling over a bench from my terrible balance).

But everything I read about Marrakech insisted that a Moroccan bath is a must-do experience.

So I committed myself, and my mom, to experience a traditional Moroccan hammam in Marrakech. 

🧖‍♀️ I recommend this Moroccan hammam experience

Traditional Moroccan Hammam in Marrakech at La Mamounia Spa

What is a Traditional Moroccan Hammam?

A hammam is a traditional bathing experience. Most assume the Moroccan hammam is the same as a Turkish bath. Although both involve scrubbing away dead skin and communal nudity, the experiences are vastly different. 

A traditional Moroccan hammam is a communal experience in a town. Originally, they were centers like the Roman baths where everyone could bathe when they didn’t have a place to do so at home.

They were separated by gender to allow for modesty. This allowed women to socialize more freely, as they weren’t allowed in cafes or other social spaces in society the way that men were.

The hammam experience is a part of weekly life in Morocco. Most people attend once a week, although I met some in Marrakech who visited multiple times a week.

Now, a Moroccan hammam is seen as a spa treatment rather than a social experience. It’s still a place like a beauty salon where women can socialize, but the main reason they visit is to leave more beautiful than when they enter.

The traditional Moroccan hammam experience involves removing your clothing, steaming open your pores on hot marble seats, rinsing your skin, being scrubbed with a hammam mit, and bathing with Moroccan black soap. 

🧖‍♀️ I recommend this Moroccan hammam experience

What to Bring to a hammam

Visiting a Moroccan hammam is a lot like visiting any other spa. The actual items provided vary from location to location.

If you visit a local hammam that is not intended for tourists, you’ll need to bring your own hammam supplies, including the black soap and hammam mit. Maroc Mama has a great hammam checklist for these kinds of hammams.

If you’re visiting a hammam that is geared more to tourists, like La Mamounia, you’ll only need items for before and after your visit.

🧖‍♀️ I recommend this Moroccan hammam experience

What to Wear in a Traditional Moroccan Bath

Typically, you wear nothing during a traditional Moroccan spa. You enter the room with a towel that you remove during the process of scrubbing and washing.

Don't Forget to Pack the Essentials!

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Western women may choose to wear bikini bottoms or a pair of disposable underwear (as I did) during their spa treatment.

What You’ll Need:

  • Clothes for before and after your visit
  • Hairbrush
  • Make-up and toiletries for after your treatment
  • Depending on your location (call to inquire): bathing suit, towel, flip flops, robe

If you want to recreate a Moroccan spa experience at home, check out my post on unique solo staycation ideas you can do at home.

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Traditional Hammams in Marrakech

Luxury (About $100)

Affordable (Under $50)

🧖‍♀️ I recommend this Moroccan hammam experience

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Experiencing a Traditional Moroccan Hammam

The Steps

A Moroccan Hammam spa treatment involves the following steps:

  • Steam for 30 minutes in a steam room
  • Shower with black Moroccan soap
  • Scrub skin with a hammam spa mitt or Kessa glove
  • Slather the skin in a hydrating mask
  • Rinse off
  • Wash hair and body with black soap
  • Relax in a robe
  • Apply a moisturizer or massage oil to help skin heal

🧖‍♀️ I recommend this Moroccan hammam experience

Before the Treatment

I visited La Mamounia’s hammam with my mom. She treated us to the experience at this luxury hotel that was so far out of my budget I felt like I wouldn’t be allowed in.

I definitely got some looks entering in my ragged joggers and threadbare tee – my uniform during my year of travel.

Opting for a more ornate hammam meant that we had access to additional services, like their large pool area.

We donned our bathing suits and headed to the gilded gold pool room, complete with pool-side beds and crystal blue waters that reminded me of a Caribbean holiday. 

We avoided the plush beds, opting for the standard beach chairs beside the whirlpool tub where we didn’t feel quite so out of place.

🧖‍♀️ I recommend this Moroccan hammam experience

inside of a Marrakech hammam

Stripping Down

Western culture has clearly had its effect on me. I was terrified to disrobe in front of a stranger.

Somehow this felt worse than baring myself for a Brazilian wax.

Looking back, it was so ridiculous to be afraid. A month later, I’d be happily throwing off my robe to sun myself in the middle of a Turkish bath without a care in the world.

But I wasn’t alone.

Most women who have their first hammam experience fear the nudity. I’ve read dozens of articles more about being naked in a hammam than the actual bathing process itself.

In the end, we didn’t even have to be naked.

Our lockers came with a plastic package that looked like a disposable shower cap. When we opened them, it revealed a gauze pair of underwear.

These disposable panties were meant to help Westerners like us feel more comfortable.

But there was nothing comfortable about the disposable thong.

It was somehow the size of granny panties while covering absolutely nothing. The elastic rode high up my waist while the flimsy material sagged away from my skin. No amount of adjustments would make the material rest against my skin. It was like we were opposite magnets, my skin forcing the gauze to hover an inch from my body regardless of my efforts.

I felt more naked than if I’d had nothing on.

🧖‍♀️ I recommend this Moroccan hammam experience

Steaming Open

A traditional Moroccan hammam begins with 15 minutes in a steam room to open your pores and help soften your skin.

Unfortunately, I have an aversion to heat and steam.

I managed 5 minutes lying in the sweltering room, feeling the sweat creating a heavy layer on my skin, before I was rushing from the room gasping for cold air.

An important reminder for everyone: if something isn’t working for your body, you can stop. Even if it’s a traditional experience.

I probably shouldn’t have pushed myself to hit the 5 minute mark. 

Listen to your body and adjust the treatment as needed so that you can enjoy the experience.

Lying Out

After our steam, the attendants led us to a warm room. The air was muggy with the vapour of hot water from the showers next door.

The dampness in the air wasn’t heavy like the steam room. Coupled with the warmth of the marble slabs we were sprawled across, it lulled me into a relaxed, near-sleep state.

The cool glass of water in my hand grounded me as the thick layer of sweat softened and my breath stopped wheezing.

I could feel the muscles in my shoulders unknotting and pressing back, trying to get closer to the comforting warmth of the marble.

It felt like pure opulence, to be lounging on a marble chaise in a plush towel with an icy glass in my hand.

If the hammam experience had ended there, I would have been happy.

Rinsing Off

Part of the allure of La Mamounia’s spa and a justification for its price tag was the privacy.

In a traditional Moroccan hammam that’s attended by Marrakech locals, everything would have been done in a communal area. You’d be naked amongst other women, and perhaps have to do the work of the scrubbing yourself.

At La Mamounia, you get an individual room for your shower and scrubbing with a personal attendant.

Oddly, that didn’t ease my nerves. I was still petrified of this woman, who sees literally hundreds of naked women every year, to see me naked.

I’m not sure if I was worried about her judging my body or just the novelty of the situation.

But I was hesitant to remove my robe when she led me down my corridor to the private shower.

I think she sensed my hesitation, tugging my towel off and turning on the shower before I had time to process what was happening.

At the time, I gasped in shock when the water hit me. The pleasant warmth was surprising but not unwelcome. The attendant moved me with firm hands, guiding me to where I needed to be as she gently rubbed black soap over my body.

I’d expected something called “black soap” to sting or be harsh. But it was oddly kind to my sensitive skin. The olive oil base kept me hydrated while the acidity macerated olives that give it its green-black colour cleansed me.

The attendant worked the black soap over every inch of my skin.

She did not respect the boundaries of the mesh underwear.

Oddly, that helped me get more comfortable. Clearly, this was a clinical practise for her. My body was just like any other body, simply skin she needed to work on.

I didn’t feel any judgments, even when she had to pull my arms away from my breasts when I instinctively went to cover them. 

Her motions were firm and calculated, the motions of someone who has done a task a thousand times. I’d felt the same sure movements from a pedicurist filing my nails or a hairdresser as he shampooed my hair.

I had just relaxed when the rinse was over. It had only taken a moment, long enough to wash the sweat from my body with the oil-based soap.

🧖‍♀️ I recommend this Moroccan hammam experience

woman getting a moroccan hammam scrub

Scrubbing Away

I was pat dry with the towel and led, wearing only the sagging mesh thong, to an adjacent room. In the center of the room was another human-sized block of marble.

I can barely remember the rest of the room. I only had a moment to register it before I was ushered onto the marble and my bones turned to jell-o again at the warmth.

It’s like the whole experience is meant to melt your mind a bit. The slight rush from room-to-room and the pleasant warmth keeps you from fully focusing on the details of it.

I vaguely remember coloured tile walls and beads of water still running down my skin.

But then a pleasing fog of comfort seemed to block my senses.

I forgot to worry about the scrubbing or my nakedness or even the way the underwear was digging into my hip on one side.

I melted and became a pliable doll to be scrubbed until I shone.

Online, people spoke of a traditional Moroccan hammam scrub leaving them feeling rubbed raw or almost sunburnt. They spoke of redness or sensitivity after the experience. Others claimed the mit was so rough it actually hurt during the process.

My experience was nothing like that.

The scrubbing was rough. I could feel my whole body shaking at the strength of the woman’s hands. My flesh would keep jiggling when she’d stopped to clean or wet the mit before her next patch of skin.

But it never hurt.

If anything, it felt wonderful. It was like getting a light massage and a good scratch all at once. As someone who loves both of those things, I was in heaven.

My attendant would stop after every limb to show me the white mitt with curls of dead skin she’d managed to remove. It would have been revolting to think of the dead skin on my body or how much she’d managed to strip off if it wasn’t for the feel.

She kept grabbing my hand to press it to the buttery smooth skin that she’d uncovered.

I’d gape, squinting to try and make out if I was literally gleaming like a plastic doll (the perils of not being able to wear glasses during spa treatments).

I don’t think I came into the world this smooth!

Every bump or ashy patch had been banished by this mit-wearing knight. Even my face, which she’d rubbed done lightly, felt like puberty had never hit.

She dumped buckets of warm water over me periodically to wash away the dead skin. It felt almost like a rebirth each time; washing away the old to reveal the new.

I was feeling so zen I’d gotten philosophical, sue me.

Masking Me

Scrubbing takes up most of the hammam experience. It takes a while to work the hand-sized mit across your body.

At la Mamounia, after the scrub is finished, you are coated in a cool clay mask.

I was coated from back to front, head to toe, in the salve. My attendant told me, in French that I could barely grasp, to lie in the mask while she fetched me juice for after the final shower.

It could have been five minutes or forty-five before she returned. I felt like I had become one with the warm marble. My mind kept wandering to thoughts of nothing or the depth of my own breaths.

To this day it’s the closest I’ve ever managed to meditation.

I didn’t even notice I was still naked.

Rinsing Off

Eventually, she returned. I was pulled to my feet and forced from the nothingness of my mind.

She had to support my arm and guide me to the shower. I felt like I’d been drugged, my eyes sluggishly processing the new area.

Once the water hit me, I slowly came back to myself. My hands joined hers rinsing the clay mask from my skin.

She tore off the crude underwear with surprising force, leaving me fully bare for the first time.

I just reached for the shampoo and she rubbed the black soap across my body.

Depending on your attendant, they may wash your hair for you. I love having someone wash my hair, so I was jealous when my mom said her attendant had done hers. Well, I was jealous until she said they were quite rough.

So it was probably for the best that I’d gotten to deal with my sensitive scalp myself.

🧖‍♀️ I recommend this Moroccan hammam experience

Recovering From the Traditional Moroccan Hammam

Warm from the shower and scrubbed into a new being, I was escorted to a traditional spa waiting room. Lying on a plush chaise with fresh squeezed orange juice in my hand, I felt like royalty.

I imagined I was a princess living in a beautifully tiled riad, like the ones I’d visited throughout Marrakesh.

I sipped my juice and touched my new skin, in awe of my own softness.

Admittedly, my mom and I didn’t follow all of the traditions of a Moroccan hammam. We didn’t socialize during the experience, and we followed the treatment with massages and pedicures.

Afterwards, it was days before I stopped stroking my arms and openly comparing myself to a dolphin (which apparently was more confusing than the compliment I’d intended it as). I kept marveling that my sensitive skin hadn’t broken out or experienced the redness other reviewers had spoken of. 

Instead, it glowed radiantly for 3 weeks. It may have lasted longer, but a stomach bug in the only place in the world I’d never go back to removed any healthy appearance I may have had.

🧖‍♀️ I recommend this Moroccan hammam experience

Tulips on traditional Moroccan hammam towel

A Moroccan Bath, A Must Do

A traditional Moroccan hammam is more than a beauty treatment. It doesn’t just leave you feeling good about your appearance or help your skin.

It’s almost a mindful practise.

You spend time relaxing, actively working towards a new version of yourself. You’re able to watch the old you be scrubbed away, coming off your body with each pass of the mit.

I only wish I’d had the bravery to go to a communal hammam to enjoy the full social experience of the Moroccan baths with local women (and that I knew some French or Arabic to help speak to them more freely).

The Moroccan hammam experience was the best thing I did in Marrakech. To this day, I recommend it to anyone visiting Marrakech or looking for a unique spa experience in their hometown.

If you have the opportunity, visit a Moroccan hammam to reveal your best skin and to help you uncover a new version of yourself.

🧖‍♀️ I recommend this Moroccan hammam experience

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