We recently spent a long weekend in Marrakech. This is a fascinating city with a rich history and plenty of things to keep the intrepid traveller busy.
But before I went I knew that one of the things I definitely wanted to do while I was there was experience one of the Marrakech hammams (essentially a Moroccan spa).
Not only do I love a good spa – I’ve previously written about my time visiting one in both Zurich and the UK – but a hammam experience is one of the must-do things if you want to learn more about the culture in Morocco.
This post contains affiliate links. However, please note that in outlining our experience in one particular Marrakech hammam, I did not receive any payment or any payment in kind (e.g. free access). All views are entirely my own
What are Moroccan hammams?
Moroccan hammams are similar to Turkish baths, albeit with some slight differences.
Both of these traditional bathing rituals have a long history dating back centuries. But whereas the Turkish experience is apparently based on water, Moroccan hammams use steam.
There are other differences, but the key one is the famous Moroccan black soap which you’ll see on sale all over Marrakech’s souks.
During the treatment, the therapist will apply this soap after soaking you in hot water. They then wash the soap off and exfoliate the skin (somewhat vigorously).
Where can you find Marrakech hammams?
Hammams can be found all over Marrakech. You won’t find it hard to find one to indulge yourself in. The problem will be more which one to choose.
This will probably come down to a combination of things: location, price, and whether you’d prefer to visit a public hammam or experience this in private.
The Hammam Mouassine is the oldest in the city, having been built in 1562. It’s a public venue and located in the heart of the souks.
You’ll probably see the outside of it as you wander around browsing the various shops and stalls.
Les Bains Ziani is also a public hammam, near to the Bahia Palace.
Unlike private hammams, where you are provided with various things during your visit (see below), this will not be the case with the public ones. In these, I’ve read that you need to bring things like a bowl, mat, scrubbing glove, towel, and toiletries.
You’ll also need your own black soap. But if you’re wondering where to get this, don’t worry – you’ll see lots being sold around the souks in the medina.
There are also private hammams dotted around Marrakech. These include the Hammam de la Rose which we decided to visit.
You can also find hammams in some of the accommodations in the city. If you’re staying in a riad, this may well have one (ours did). There are also hammams in hotels.
The Royal Mansour Hammam is said to be one of the loveliest hammams in Marrakech and is located in a grand hotel.
Judging by the photos on their internet site, this is a beautiful place. They offer hammams (that include extras such as massages) that last between one and two hours.
Hammam tours and trips
Alternatively, if you’re wading through the extensive different options listed and find it a bit overwhelming, you could always try one out by booking through a third party tour operator.
GetYourGuide has tours that include a pick up or other activities, such as a camel ride.
What happens in Marrakech hammams?
We visited the Hamman de la Rose, and so the following covers our experience there. Undoubtedly, other places would be different.
However, the general concept of the hammam rituals should be similar whichever one you pick.
Marrakech hammams: The Hammam de la Rose
The Hammam de la Rose is located in the Mouassine area of Marrakech, in a small street not far from Marrakech’s main square, Jemaa el-Fnaa.
I’d be surprised if anyone visits Marrakech without visiting this square, so at some point you’ll be nearby.
It’s about a five-minute walk from Le Jardin Secret – a small but beautiful garden – at the end of a street of boutique shops.
The hammam is only a small place, but it’s a good option if you’re sightseeing in the old medina.
Our hammam experience
In the hammam we visited, there were six different types of experience to choose from. These varied in duration.
We opted for the oriental hammam, a 30-minute experience involving eucalyptus black soap and rose oil.
Others use henna, palm oil hair treatment or the application of Rassoul clay (a cleansing clay which is apparently only found in the Atlas Mountains in Morocco).
At the reception, we were given a robe, slippers and disposable underwear. We were shown to the changing room where we had an allocated locker and could leave our things in safe storage. In the ladies’ room, there was a sink, hairdryer and body lotion for use after your spa visit.
We were then called to our private hammam by a therapist who provided the experience (I have since discovered this person is called a kassala).
The private space for this was surprisingly large, given that that the building itself appears to be relatively small.
There were three adjoining rooms. The first was an entrance room/ foyer where we removed our robes. So note that you will be wearing barely nothing during your time here. Be prepared!
We also stepped out of our slippers, donning waterproof sandals. These are needed as lots of water is involved in the hammam. The floor is also absolutely roasting (it’s very difficult to walk on it with bare feet).
The next two rooms were where our hammam experience took place. These were really dimly light, so my worries about my near nakedness were to some extent allayed as it was quite hard to see very much.
The first part of our experience involved going into a large octagonal room. Here there was a central water feature (similar to a church font) and benches around the side.
As you can see from the picture below (courtesy of Hammam de la Rose), this is a lovely room.
Having been told to sit on the benches – which were delightfully warm – a bucket of water was literally flung all over me.
This was something I hadn’t seen coming (so close your eyes if, like me, you wear contact lenses)! Our kassala was filling buckets from the running tap in the font and using this to quite vigorously douse us with water.
Once we were soaked from head to toe, the kassala instructed us to lie on the heated benches. This is a way of detoxing and was a very relaxing start to our afternoon.
Having had a frenetic walk through the souks of Marrakech, lying back in a dark room, closing my eyes and listening to relaxing music being piped into the room was just divine. It’s like stopping to lie in a steam room for 10-minutes.
When our time was up, we were taken one by one into the second room (photo again courtesy of Hammam de la Rose).
This also had a water feature in the middle, with floating rose petals on the top. In one corner were benches and in another a shower.
Laying on the bench, the kassala covers you in black soap and scrubs you down with a hand mitten (apparently in public hammams friends and family do this for each other).
The mitten is given to you at the end as a souvenir (this is something I found reassuring on hygiene grounds, demonstrating that the mittens are not being reused between different customers).
This scrub is quite intensive. The soap was also more exfoliating than I had anticipated. It was quite a grainy soap which is pretty vigorously scrubbed all over you.
The kassala then douses you again in water to rinse the main soap off and lathers you in some lotion/gel (I assume this was a softer type of soap). She also washed my hair and lathered it in a thick conditioner.
The last stage was to take a long shower in the corner to rinse everything off. At the end the kassala rubs rose oil into your skin. This helps condition and soften your skin and smells amazing.
The last part of the hammam experience is a final chill out. You put your robe back on, (there are not towels here – so this serves as it), put your slippers on and are taken downstairs.
The room consists of white sofa beds with a large skylight above. Somehow this room, with its low-level soporific music, makes this room particularly relaxing.
You’re pampered with mint tea and small Moroccan pastries, and given bottled water to refresh you. You’re told that you can stay as long as you like here. We took them at their word and I even had a little snooze!
Marrakech hammams: the cost
Our oriental hammam lasted for 30 minutes and cost 250 dirhams (£21/ £23 euros/ $26 in February 2020).
The longest hammam here – the Royal Hammam – is 50 minutes and includes clay treatment, a foot treatment, and the application of argan (an oil, again only produced in Morocco).
The hammam being offered in our riad was an oriental hammam with a massage. This was a 90-minute all-in treatment costing 640 dirhams (£55/60 euros/$67*)
Unsurprisingly, the public hammams are cheaper. You seem to pay a small charge to enter the spa section and then add on extras.
For example, in Les Bains Ziani you pay either 50 or 60 dirhams for the spa part of the experience. A scrub is an extra 20 dirhams and soaping another 20 dirhams.
In the Hammam Mouassine, the hammam including a scrub is either 150 or 200 dirhams.
At the other end of the spectrum there is the Royal Mansour Hammam which is said to be one of the most indulgent hammams in the city. These come at a price, however.
The cheapest hammam is a 60 minute experience at 1400 dirhams (around £120/132 euros/$147*).
For 3200 dirhams (£273/300 euros/$335*), you can have a two hour hammam that includes a massage. Needless to say, this isn’t in my price range!
Would I recommend experiencing a Marrakech hammam?
In a word, yes.
They’re a great way of experiencing some of the local culture and combining this with an excuse to just sit back, relax and do nothing for a couple of hours.
Whilst I love city breaks, they can be quite tiring. This is especially the case with short breaks where you’re dashing around frantically trying to pack as much in as possible.
So a visit to a hammam allows you to break from the pace and enjoy some calmness to quietly reflect.
It’s also a good way to get out of the beating sun (during the summer months, the temperatures can rise in the city to the high 30s).
And I really do think my skin felt softer the next day. It’s an essential part of a beauty regime if that’s what you’re aiming to achieve by visiting.
So I’d definitely recommend a visit to a Marrakech hammam. And if you do decide to try one out, here are my top tips.
Marrakech hammams: Top tips for visiting
As I said at the start of the post, I can only comment on the one hammam we visited.
But my research before we went to Marrakech, and our time experiencing one, has led me to suggest the following:
1. Book in advance if you want a private hammam
If you only have a few days in Marrakech and don’t want to be disappointed, then I’d strongly advise you book in advance. I tried to book a couple of hammams and was unsuccessful. I then had to shift days for the Hammam de la Rose as they didn’t have availability on the day I wanted.
Having said this, there are so many hammams in Marrakech, if you’re not lucky with your first choice, you’re bound to find somewhere else to experience this.
2. If you’re a woman and want to preserve your modesty, ask for the male underwear!
You don’t really need to worry about about this – at least not in Hammam de la Rose.
The rooms are dimly lit and the kassalas will be completely used to seeing near naked bodies. Although I did note that in booking a private hammam for one man and one woman, no-one checked to see whether we were happy to strip off in front of each other!!!
However, for women, if you do want to preserve your modesty a bit more, then I’d advise asking for the male underwear when you sign in. I didn’t, was slightly alarmed at the (extremely) skimpy thong I was given, but found the staff were more than happy to provide the alternative for me.
3. If you opt for a public hammam, don’t forget the essentials
This would include a bucket to fill with water to douse yourself in, your own mitten, soap, a towel and robe. You’ll also need a change of underwear (these will get very wet!) and your own toiletries for your shower.
4. Don’t rush
There’s a lot to do in Marrakech on a short break and the pace of life around the square and the souks do seem encourage you to rush around somewhat. So, stepping into a calm and peaceful hammam is an ideal antidote and a welcome break.
I’d therefore suggest not rushing your time here, as once you leave you may well be dashing around sightseeing again.
And although your hammam may last less than an hour, the chill out room downstairs is a great place to spend more time to have some well-deserved rest and relaxation.
4. If you have the time and budget, consider booking other treatments
Hammams offer a range of services to suit all needs and budgets. So, if you want to spend even more time here, or intensify your relaxation, you might want to consider booking additional treatments.
The Hammam de la Rose offers different types of massages to work on different parts of your body (e.g. your back, shoulders, feet). They also offer hot stone massages and specific massages for pregnant women.
There is also a particularly special massage where you have two masseurs working on your body! In addition, you could treat yourself to a facial, manicure or pedicure.
Other places I have seen also offer massages and other beauty treatments.
5. Go to Café Arabe afterwards for a lovely rooftop bar
For those who go to the Hammam de la Rose, a great place to go afterwards if you’re in need of some refreshment is the Café Arabe.
This is about five minutes away (the entrance is opposite the Le Jardin Secret) and has a beautiful rooftop bar serving soft drinks, wine, beer and cocktails. You can also eat in the bar or in their separate restaurant.
We’d visited the spa late afternoon and managed to bag a seat in the bar as the sun was setting. It was the perfect end to our afternoon of relaxation!
If you do decide to try one of the Marrakech hammams, I hope you enjoy it as much as we did.
And if you like visiting spas in general, see my other posts on a trip to a rooftop spa in Zurich and to the Roman Baths and Thermae spa in the UK’s city of Bath that draws on the local thermal waters.
* Prices and conversions as of February 2020