Firstly, what is a Hammam?
A public Hammam is unlike anything most westerners have ever experienced. A Hammam is basically a bath house with a steam room where Moroccans go at least once a week to cleanse themselves and be scrubbed and ex-foliated. It’s an important part of life in Morocco, and many people will spend hours there catching up and socializing with friends. It is considered normal to help each other scrub your backs and is only polite to return the favour.
hotel Hammam is a different experience and is slightly more up-scale and private. The hotel will also offer spa treatments for an added cost. You can request to have your hammam separately if you want - something I didn't know! Don’t be surprised if the person giving you your Hammam is practically naked; they do usually keep their pants on to make you feel more comfortable.
The process can be a little bit rough but will make you feel cleaner than you've ever been! It usually involves being washed with normal soap and then covered in the traditional Moroccan black soap (sabon baldi) and scrubbed with the glove (a keesa). The dead skin will be cleaned away and then if you are in a hotel Hammam the attendant will give you a small massage.
The soap has the texture of butter, this natural vegetable paste based with black olives is rich in vitamin E. It is obtained from a mixture of oil and crushed olives, soaked in salt and potash. In the nineteenth century it was used as a product of Dermatology and later became a real beauty tool for the body suitable for every type of skin. It prepares the skin for exfoliation. The skin will be softer and ready for a scrub. Combined with the action of the Kessa glove will remove impurities and dead skin.
Thanks to it exfoliating and moisturizing, it softens and nourishes the skin. It does not foam but becomes creamy when you add water.
Thing's you should know about the Hammam
In Morocco, public hammams generally cost between 5 and 10 dirhams (50 cents to a dollar). You will pay a few more dirham for soap, towels, and any other toiletries if you don’t bring your own. Private hammams, such as those in riads and hotels, can cost up to 200 dirham (around $20 USD).
Men and women generally go topless in hammams, but they do wear underwear. Don’t get completely naked unless other people are. It’s not required that you go in topless, but if you don’t, know that you will stand out. It’s also wise to wear dark underwear so it doesn’t become transparent once it’s wet.
It’s also proper etiquette to tip the attendants who scrub and/or massage you. Just a few dirham or lira are sufficient.
Do your research. Some hammams provide cubbies or lockers for free, and some don’t. Some give you free underwear, and others don’t. Some hammams in Morocco even require that you bring your own buckets.
My Hammam experience
I had never been to a spa before and so I was hesitant to try the hammam. My new travel friend who I met on my trip to Morocco convinced me to join her and I knew I couldn't miss out on the opportunity to try a Moroccan bath.
We went to ... down the street from our hotel which was more like a spa than a public Hammam. The ladies there were very friendly but spoke little English so we got by with our small amount of French. We were taken into a small room together where we could change and store our stuff in lockers. They gave us a paper g-string to wear, bathrobe and flip flops which we were expected to wear.
After we’d gotten over the initial surprise of our sudden, intimate knowledge of one another, the public nudity really wasn’t so bad.
Initially you’ll have warm water thrown over you from a bucket, after which the attendant will lather you with black soap scrub, the scent of which varies by spa; eucalyptus and bitter orange are the most common. So far so relaxing, but while you’re not looking the attendant will don a loofah glove and begin to vigorously scrub off all your dead skin. It’s a bit like being sandpapered; your pores won’t know what’s hit them. I already felt quite clean but the amount of dead skin that came off after being scrubbed thoroughly with the glove showed me that showering is not enough! The attendant went to get shampoo she also brought one of those little plastic brushes that fit in the palm of your hand, and proceeded to mercilessly de-tangle both of us.
Once I’d had what seemed like all the water in Morocco slopped over me and deemed thoroughly rinsed, I was slipped into a fluffy gown and shooed back to the dressing room to change.
My skin had never felt so clean or soft! My friend and I stepped out into the Moroccan sunshine glowing. I went and bought a pot of the soap and mitt to take home that seems to be lasting forever.