For many travelers to Morocco, visiting a hammam is high on their list of things to do. There's just one question we had once we arrived: to visit a tourist hammam or an authentic local hammam?
On our recent trip to Morocco we tried both, and we would highly recommend each as they are completely different experiences, both with their own pros and cons.
Today we are going to jump into those differences!
Difference Between Tourist and Local Moroccan Hammam
So what exactly is the difference between these types of hammams? Well, in local hammams, you basically bring all of your bath products and tools and bathe yourself. The bath areas themselves are certainly not glamorous by any standard, and you'll be bathing right alongside locals.
Tourist hammams generally offer more privacy (although this can vary from place to place), are built more lavishly, and offer more western-style spa services along with traditional Moroccan hammam treatments.
So how do you decipher if a hammam is a tourist or local place?
This is generally easy enough to figure out based on the price alone- local hammams will cost just 10 to 20 Dirhams, while tourist places range from 200 Dirhams and up. Most guidebooks will also state if the place is a local or tourist hammam.
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Our Local Moroccan Hammam Experience
In Fes, we knew we wanted to try a hammam so when our Airbnb host offered to set one up for us, we agreed. We didn't quite know what kind of experience we were getting in to but were up for the adventure.
Our host had arranged for two locals to pick us up and they led us through the maze of the medina. After getting further and further off the beaten path, we soon realized we were likely headed to a local hammam.
As all local hammams have separate entrances and areas for men and women, Jeremy and I parted ways as he went with his male guide and I went with my female guide and another friend we were traveling with into the hammam.
We descended down steps into a basement locker room area where I was instructed to remove all my clothes except underwear.
We headed through one empty room and into another very steamy room where everyone was bathing. My friend and I were the only tourists, and everyone definitely stared at us for a while.
The room was sort of dungeon-like with no windows, tiled walls, and a tiled floor with a drain in the center. Everyone sat around the outside edge of the room and bathed themselves with buckets of the piping hot water flowing out of a tap in the corner.
Jeremy was alone in his bath, getting a drastically different and more isolated experience than ours that follows below.
Our guide had us sit down and she started fetching buckets of water, carefully mixing the hot water with cold water to get just the right temperature.
Soon we were being sloshed with water from head to toe, sometimes right in the face. Next our guide opened her hammam kit to reveal all kinds of tools and bath products.
First we layered on the savon noir, or black soap, which is made from olives and olive oil. It was a deep amber color and had a rich, creamy texture. This soap is the stuff you see piled up in amber mounds at the front of all the bath product stores in the medina.
After our guide rinsed us off with more extreme water sloshing, we were each handed a kessa glove to scrub ourselves down with. Our guide also gave us a good scrubbing all over, and let me tell you – if you have never used an exfoliating glove like this before, you will likely be grossed out by the amount of gunk that comes off of your skin.
Naturally the next step was more water sloshed all over us to get rid of the exfoliated gunk. Then our guide had us lie down and gave us a brief oil massage followed by, you guessed it, another water rinse.
We also got our hair washed and combed using a fine-toothed round comb (which I loved so much that I bought one later to take home).
A final step was a rinse with some rose water – literally just rose petals dumped in a bucket and filled with warm water. Then we dried off and changed and slowly made our way back to reality.
There were several things I loved about this experience. One is that we had local guides to help us through everything, as it would have been a little intimidating just going by ourselves. The other great thing about this experience was getting to witness a slice of Moroccan culture.
There were many families in the hammam, and I loved how they just spent hours there bathing themselves and bathing each other. It struck me as one of the most natural ways that people can care for each other, and yet this type of experience is so foreign to westerners.
One other thing to note about local hammams are that men and women generally have separate times at which they can use the hammams. So if you're traveling with someone of the opposite sex, you won't be able to use a hammam at the same time.
The hammam we went to was one of the rare ones that had hours for men and women at the same time (in separate areas) which we probably never would have known about if it wasn't for asking our Airbnb host.
The Tourist Hammam Experience
If you're nervous about being practically naked in front of strangers, then perhaps a tourist hammam is more your speed. These establishments generally offer more western-style spa services like masks and scrubs, massages, and facials, in addition to traditional Moroccan hammam treatments.
We visited Le Bain Bleu in Marrakech and did the traditional hammam experience (click the link for photos as we were unable to take any inside ourselves- photos here are to help illustrate the ornateness seen around Morocco and in the tourist hammams).
Right away we were impressed by the building's lavish Moroccan design. We were led to the women's changing room where we were given a locker, cozy bath robe, and sandals.
After changing into our swimsuits and donning our robes, we were led to the basement spa area with beautiful dim mood lighting and various pools and treatment rooms- it was quite swanky.
The nice thing about this hammam (and presumably other tourist hammams) is that they had private treatment rooms so you can be alone or with your significant other during your treatment.
We removed our robes and swimsuit tops and lied down in our treatment room on warm slabs of stone. We were led through the hammam experience which had the same basic steps as the local hammam experience, only this time we had a dedicated spa worker lathering us up and scrubbing us down.
The workers were also very keen on making sure we were having a good experience, asking us if the water temperature was ok and if the intensity of the kessa scrubbing was ok.
After our soaping, scrubbing, and a brief argan oil massage, we donned our swimsuits and headed out to the common pool area for a quick dip. Then we were led upstairs to a post-treatment room complete with lounge chairs, bottled water, and cookies.
While it was certainly nice to have a private treatment room and to have someone bath and massage me, it felt like we were a little rushed through the process, which to me seems like the exact opposite point of a hammam.
If you're unsure about doing a local hammam in Morocco, I would try a tourist hammam and then reconsider. The local experience is such a part of Moroccan culture that you'd really be missing out by sticking to just the tourist spots!
Make Your Own Hamam Kit at Home
While in Morocco we bought many of the products used in the hammams to take home for ourselves because we loved them so much. A few we mentioned in the above post are available online if you want to make your own kit, such as the following:
- Exfoliating Glove and Scrub Brush
- Moroccan Black Soap
- Argan oil
- Black Soap, Clay, and Kessa Glove
- Moroccan Black Soap with Kessa Glove
- Or a complete Hammam Kit
Don't miss this one when visiting Morocco!
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