Hammam Spa Tips – Our Surreal Moroccan Massage Experience

Written By: The Planet D

These hammam spa tips will help you navigate your first Turkish bath anywhere in the world. If you can survive a Moroccan Hammam, you can survive any hammam. While traveling in Morocco we went on a walking tour of the Medina (the old city) in Marrakech. When walking by a hammam, the owner invited us in to check out his spa.

He seemed like a nice guy, so we went in for a look, and it was very nice. So we went back the next day and booked our very first Hammam experience ever. What you are going to read is what traditional Turkish baths are like. This isn’t like a spa in downtown Toronto at the Four Seasons, this is a public bath in the middle of the old city. Once you know ritual of what to do in one of these public baths, you’ll have no problem in any spa around the world.

Hammam Spa Tips

Once we got inside the traditional hammam on this small street in the middle of the Medina, we had second thoughts. What were we thinking? We didn’t even know what a hammam was. And we definitely had no clue what the Hammam etiquette was at one of these things.

Going to any old Hammam on the street in Morocco isn’t an easy experience. It’s not like a luxury hotel in North America or the Caribbean where you can ask questions and they walk you through with kid gloves. It’s not like a five-star hotel in the Middle East where everything is meticulous. Instead, you are on your own to figure it out. Nobody tells you what to do. But we are here to keep you from making the same mistakes that we did. Follow these tips and you’ll be ready to duck into an authentic Hammam in Morocco.

What is a Hammam?

hammam dave inside
Dave inside the hammam

A Hammam is a hot steam bath followed by scrubbing and cleaning and then ending with a massage. It sounds simple enough, doesn’t it? Well, there’s a little more to visiting a Hammam than that.

Each hammam will vary a bit in Morocco, but for the most part, you will expect to go through a similar hammam ritual of bathing, scrubbing, massage, and showers.

A Moroccan massage also known as a Hammam massage is very similar to a Turkish bath experience. You are bent, prodded, and scraped from head to toe. You are engulfed in steam and at times you are very confused. In other places, hammams are more relaxed and softer, but a Morrocan hammam is all business with a very rigorous massage and even more rigorous bathing.

History of the Hammam

Hammams have been an integral part of Moroccan society for centuries, with their origins going back to the Roman era. When Romans established settlements in Morocco, they built bathhouses that combined their bathing traditions with the local culture.

In the 7th century, Islamic culture significantly influenced the development of the hammam in Morocco. Ritual purity is an important aspect of Islam, and hammams provided a space for people to cleanse themselves both physically and spiritually. During this time, the hammam evolved to incorporate various features such as steam rooms and cold plunge pools.

Beyond being a place for cleansing, the hammam also played a central role in Moroccan social life. It was a space for relaxation, socializing, and even conducting business. Hammams were often attached to mosques, reflecting their spiritual significance. For women, in particular, the hammam was a rare space where they could socialize freely, outside the constraints of the home.

Today, hammams remain an essential part of Moroccan culture, though there is a diversity in terms of the facilities and services they offer. While many locals continue to visit traditional neighborhood hammams, there are also more upscale hammams that cater to tourists looking for a luxury spa experience.

Our Hammam Massage in Marrakech

Dave and I took part in a traditional hammam. At the beginning of our hammam ritual, we were each led into separate rooms to begin our 90-minute hammam experience. Dave went to the men’s part of the building and I was sent to the women’s. Hammams are not co-ed.

I followed a petite woman who spoke little English to a changing room where I was given disposable underwear, a towel, a robe, and some rubber slippers. She sat me down in a booth and left the room. For a very long time.

Waiting for my Hammam

Hammam Morocco Interior waiting room

I didn’t know if I was to follow he after I changed or not. As the confusion set in on my face, a friendly group of women from Malaysia (who had just finished their hammam) told me what to do.

No time to be shy in here.” They said with a smile.

“Strip down, sit down and wait. Oh and don’t put on that robe, that’s for later.”

So I sat naked (save for my disposable black underwear and rubber shoes) in my cubicle and waited.

Separate Hammam for Men and Women

spa etiquette tips Hammam
Dave’s ready for his Hammam

Dave followed a guy into another room where he was given a loincloth. He indicated that Dave should strip down while he stood and watched and then proceeded to put the loincloth on for him. If that wasn’t awkward enough, the door to reception was open the entire time!

In a couple of minutes, he was wrapped up and ready to go. Dave was sent through a door where he was greeted by a wall of steam. It was here that he did his own waiting for his next instructions.

Note: “No cameras allowed in Hammam, there naked people inside” So, the only photos you will see here are from reception and the waiting rooms.

Deb’s Hammam Spa Experience

hammam tips

After sitting alone in my cubicle (the Malaysian women had long gone) for what seemed like forever, a woman came in and took my hand. She led me to a stool and sat me down where I was given a bath.

Scrubbing

The first part of the hammam experience involves cleansing the body. Scorching hot water was poured over my head as she washed my hair and body. I winced and sighed, but she didn’t seem to care or take any notice.

She gave me a full body scrub as she sloughed away my dead skin. It seemed to go on forever as I sat there in uncomfortable silence as she scrubbed away using her special black soap and shampoo. I was relieved when she finished and began to rinse away the suds with warm water.

After my grime was washed away, (but it seemed that a lot of soap was still sticking to my skin) I was taken by the hand by another woman who led me to the steam room. She pointed to a corner where I was to sit, and it was here that I stayed until my next order was given.

Inside the Steam Room

The steam room was hotter than any other steam room I’ve ever been in and as I took deep breaths to try to relax, I also took deep breaths to try to keep myself from bolting out the door. And then I waited forever not knowing what to do. But, like a good patron, I didn’t move until I was told by the attendant.

I have since learned that the hot steam promotes circulation and cleans out the toxins in the body. I understand that completely, but this steam room was so hot, I wasn’t sure if it was doing its job or simply boiling me to a slow death.

Dave’s Hammam

hammam dave
Dave enjoying his hammam

Dave had a similar experience of standing awkwardly while he waited, but instead of a cubicle, it was in a steamy room full of massage tables. He stood half-naked in his loin-cloth with a stunned look on his face before he was saved and finally lead to his own steam room.

Traditional Hammams Start with a Bath

It turns out that Dave had to clean himself instead of being bathed like me. He was handed some black soap and motioned to rub it all over his body.

Dave obeyed and covered himself in black soap thinking someone would be back. But they never came. He sat in the steam for another 10 minutes or so as the soap seeped into his pores. “Was I supposed to do this?” he wondered. “Can anybody tell me what’s going on?”

Back to Deb’s Hammam

hammam steam room
The door to the steam room in the hammam

In the meantime after sitting in the steam for what felt like forever during my hammam,  I finally let my mind and muscles relax. I was feeling pretty good. When I saw a faint shadow enter the room of steam, I knew that it was time to go.

Body Exfoliation is Part of the Hammam Massage

I was led out by my hand and was laid down on a marble slab located around a fountain in another hot room where my body was exfoliated. When I say exfoliated, that’s an understatement. It’s more like having your skin peeled off with sandpaper. At one point I was sure that there was a trickle of blood pouring down my leg as she rubbed up and down my calf. But apparently I had it better than Dave in my Hammam experience.

hammam marrakech
Outside in the streets of Marrakech

I didn’t have it half as bad as Dave’s hammam. When they finally came to get him, he was led in his loincloth, to a plastic massage table where he was sanded and scrubbed and slapped around like a wet fish until there wasn’t a scale left on his body.

The male masseurs are tougher on the guys. Dave’s skin was stinging as they constantly poured hot water over his body. He was alarmed when he opened his eyes and saw his skin peeling away. Could there be that many layers coming off or is it just the soap? It’s better to close your eyes and pretend you didn’t see anything.

Soon enough, you’ll be sitting pretty and enjoying the moment you’ve been waiting for. The Massage.

The Strange Moroccan Massage in the Hammam

inside a morrocan hammam

I was still walking around half-naked with nothing but my disposable underwear and rubber shoes and Dave was still wrapped up in his loincloth but things were winding down.

After the steam room, the scrubbing on the marble slabs and the confusion of being wasted and bathed, it was finally time to get our aching muscles worked on. It was the moment I was looking forward to. My very first Moroccan massage.

I was led to yet another room by the attendant where I was placed on a massage table made of slippery plastic. I had a half-hour massage that was on the one hand very relaxing and on the other quite uncomfortable.

The woman kept massaging my breasts. It seemed that with each pass of whichever body part she was massaging, she always made her way to my boobs. Is she supposed to massage my breasts?

All I could think was “That’s funny, I didn’t think that my boobies held a lot of tension.” But I just laid there and went with it.

I was expecting a much rougher experience, but it was more like a light full body rub down. I grew frustrated because I really wanted my shoulders and back kneaded out, but it never happened. Instead, she just kept lightly stroking and caressing my body. After the vigorous wash, I was expecting a deep tissue massage.

Dave’s More Painful Hammam Treatment

hammam tips

I was so jealous when I talked to Dave and he told me that his massage was a killer. He was bent and pulled every which way in positions he didn’t even know his body was capable of.

He came out a good 15 minutes later than me with a big grin on his face saying his favorite phrase when he loves something “That Was Awesome!

The awkward moments, the hot steam, and the painful soap of the hammam paid off for Dave. His muscles were loose, his mind was relaxed and he had an experience that he’d never forget. And maybe never try again. But when you go to Morocco, you’d be crazy not to go to a hammam.

Relaxation Room

The Hammam ritual ended in a relaxation room where we were served mint tea and had the time to reflect on the entire experience.

Traditional Hammam vs Modern Hammam

This was as much of a traditional hammam as you can get. It was almost like stepping back in time and we are so glad that we did it. If you find yourself in Morroco or Turkey, make sure to visit a local hammam for a real experience. The public hammam will be very different from what you will find in your hotel, but it will give you memories to last a lifetime.

What is a Hammam?

A hammam is a spa experience that starts in a steam room followed by an exfoliating bath and a Turkish massage.

What do you wear to a Hammam?

When visiting a hammam, you strip naked. Hammams supply a small towel (or in our case, a loin cloth for Dave and plastic underwear for Deb) to wrap yourself in.

Do you tip at a Hammam?

Yes, you tip at a hammam. Expect to tip 10-20 percent of what you paid for the massage.

Can you wear a swimsuit in a Hammam?

We suggest that you do not wear a bathing suit in a hammam. You will be scrubbed with soap and minerals and you won’t want to ruin your swimwear.

What Should I bring to a Hammam?

When visiting a traditional hammam in Morroco, do not bring any valuables. Many do not have lockers so you will just be leaving your things in a stall. If you are attending a more upscale hammam at a hotel you can bring whatever you like. Otherwise, Hammams provide everything you need from mats to buckets, black soap to shampoo, and towels.

How to Survive Your First Hammam
How to Survive Your First Hammam

The name of the Hammam in Marrakech that we stumbled across as we wove through the Medina was Hammam Ziani and you can find out how to get there and experience your own hammam.

Check out our more spa tips

Read More About Morocco Travel

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About The Planet D

Dave Bouskill and Debra Corbeil are the owners and founders of The Planet D. After traveling to 115 countries, on all 7 continents over the past 13 years they have become one of the foremost experts in travel. Being recognized as top travel bloggers and influencers by the likes of Forbes Magazine, the Society of American Travel Writers and USA Today has allowed them to become leaders in their field.

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35 thoughts on “Hammam Spa Tips – Our Surreal Moroccan Massage Experience”

  1. Hi Dave and Deb
    I still think you got off lightly with your Hammam  Massage in Marrocco. It can get more painful if you go for one in Turkey. Though I have not experienced this form of massage myself, I certainly know all about it. You usually are not allowed to wear any clothes at all, so you were fortunate to have worn some sort of material to cover your modesty.  Most other places insist that you go entirely naked. I would not worry me to be naked in front of other people because I am a naturist and go naked all day long during the summer months, only to put on clothes in the winter months.  Also, the harsh scrubbing is not only to get rid of dead skin, but you’d be surprised how dirty your body actually is. Regular showering with soap does not remove all the dirt and grime off your body. So now that you know what it was all about, would you do it all over again?

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  2. We visited a Hammam in Morroccco and had a much different experience. The scrubbing was intense, but not painfully so. My skin was soft all over for a week. We had a 4 hour experience with lots of tea in between treatments. for a fraction of what this would cost in most countries. You can find Hammams in every price range and level of luxury and I shopped around and read reviews. Given that sanitation will go hand in hand with the price you pay, I would not consider a cheap one. Especially post-Covid.

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  3. Wow, I’ve never been to a hammam before and didn’t even know what it this. Very interesting and useful material – now I know everything I need)

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  4. There are pros and cons to having the massage before or after the hammam. Having the massage first means you will get all cleaned up in the hammam, hair washed, not greasy, and there’s no real need to shower afterwards. But getting the hammam first gets your body totally loosened up, tingly, and even more relaxed for the massage. The downside: greasy body and hair that looks like hell when you’re done. Going back to the riad to shower is pretty much a given.

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  5. Moroccan bath is an age old traditional cleansing ritual of Moroccans. It helps to relax the tired nerves and muscles while enhancing the blood circulation of the body.

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  6. We had VERY different experience then most people as well. We got a couples 30 min massage and 30 min hamman. Similar to yours, as they were just massaging my breasts the entire time. But they were also blasting American music, smoking cigarettes, and giggling during the experience.

    They basically just threw buckets of water on us, while Zeke was totally nude and I had at least a bikini bottom on, lightly rubbed us down with a small scrubbing mitt, and then threw towels at us.

    The whole thing was very bizarre and a LOT different then the one in Turkey to say the least! We have to go back I guess and try another place?? Glad to hear we are not the only ones this happened to! Thanks for sharing!

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    • Haha! We didn’t have the blasting music, but that definitely adds to the weirdness. And no way, cigarettes? That’s the worst. Sometimes I think they’re just messing with us all. 😀

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  7. My hilarious Moroccan hammam experience ?? My first stop in the last travel nel sud was Marrakech and there I tried a fantastic hammam I am curious to hear all about your experience!

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  8. I have visited many different hammams in Morocco, each visit was wonderful and diverse. It was also a social meeting with the village women,very interesting to learn about their culture. They were glad to see me because I was a Canadian tourist and were pleased that I wanted to learn about their lives. I will never forget how beautiful these women were both physically and spiritually. It was a place where women felt united and not afraid to share information, they have a strong connection to each other,a lesson western women should learn.I felt empowered every time I went to the hammam, I saw women taking care of each other and even taking care of me . Their laughter was contagious and filled my heart with joy. There were many awesome moments, once I heard loud singing and music , a family of women were bringing a bride to be into the hammam, it was wonderful to see how they washed her and took care of her while laughing and giving her advice on her first night with her husband to be. I strongly recommend you go to one , there are hammam for men and hammams for women.

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  9. The hammam in Essaouira was one of the highlights of the trip to Morocco. But, I was glad to do it with a friend (I travel solo most of the time) because it’s confusing and hilarious. When they snuck up on me with a bucket of water I screamed (am not the screamy type). The feeling afterwards is great, like you’ve had an all-body pedicure.

    Anyone know of a good hammamin Istanbul?

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  10. Wow, this sounds like quite the experience. Not your usual ‘massage’ day. And seriously whats up with the hard scrubbing? Did your skin feel silky smooth after all that peeling?

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  11. What a great read, haha. I’ve never been to hammam, but you totally convinced me to get a painful, awkward, sweaty experience too. I’ve added the post to my new series of inspirational lifestyle & travel stories, to read for more sadist people.

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  12. I went to a hammam in Istanbul and had a pretty similar experience! What’s with the boo massage? I was thinking the same thing… and my stomach NEVER needs massaging than you very much! Overall it was relaxing and funny and definitely an experience that I won’t soon forget… Sounds like it was about the same for you guys too!

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  13. This is hilarious! I really regret missing out an a hammam last time I was in Morocco-guess I’ll have to go back for one now that I’m a little more prepared 🙂

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  14. That is exactly how it is, a love ~ hate experience with no time for modesty. It is fabulous and you always feel like a new person when done. I could easily see doing this on a regular basis! When I last visited Morocco I had 2 hammam experiences as each region of Morocco is a bit different. Loved them both!! My local Moroccan friend said they typically do it as they can afford it, he was a once a month kind of guy which meant he is doing well.

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    • Thanks for the comment Melissa. SO true, you do feel fabulous after the experience and once we did it again, we were much more comfortable. I was the one helping the people with the confused looks on their faces 🙂 I have heard the same thing that people go at least once a month in Morocco. Nice!

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  15. Sounds wonderful! I couldn’t make it work to go to a hammam when I was in Syria and Jordan, mostly because I couldn’t find one where I was able to work out how anything worked, or indeed how much it would cost. Sounds like you found the perfect balance between an authentic experience and foreigner friendliness!

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    • I think you definitely caught the idea of what I was trying to say. It was funny and confusing, but definitely a great blend of authentic and foreigner friendly. It was worth doing and we’d do it again. We did do it again in Istanbul as a matter a fact 🙂

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  16. I don’t mind the awkward half nudity (especially if there aren’t other people around). However, this doesn’t sound like the best experience in the world. Getting skin scrubbed off like that seems like a rough experience. Dave got the better message but I don’t see this as relaxing. Do many Moroccans do this? It doesn’t seem like an enjoyable experience but maybe the more you do it, the more you get used to it.

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    • HAHA, It is pretty crazy. The scrubbing can be quite rough. I think I had worse scrubbing than Dave, but then he had a rougher massage than me. So it all balanced out. Yes, many Moroccans do this. They do it actually on a regular basis from once a month to a few times a month. It’s a popular activity. You must do it when you go. I hope you give it a try. It’s fun and funny!

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  17. Hahaha…I couldn’t stop laughing at most of the parts. As awkward as it was, it’s good to know that it’s worth it, although I doubt I want to try that. Guess I’m too shy and I’d be happy with just a shoulder and foot massage.

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    • Haha, I’m so glad you laughed. I was hoping to capture the humour of the experience but I never know if it is coming off tongue in cheek or not. So I feel good thatyou got it. You have to try it. It’s a crazy fun experience and you do feel really good after the fact. You just have to take a big breath and go with the flow.

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  18. I've only been to a hammam once and it was in Miami, so thankfully instructions were told to me in English. 🙂

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