I had the idea that hammam spas in Morocco were overrated tourist attractions. I was so wrong. My Heritage Hammam Spa in Marrakech was one of my best experiences ever. I would certainly say you should put it on your itinerary when visiting Morocco. But how does it compare to the authentic, local hammam experience?
- An Authentic Hammam vs a Hammam Spa
- Visiting Heritage Hammam Spa in Marrakech
- Frequently Asked Questions About Hammams
- Booking a Hammam Spa in Marrakech
- Further Reading
An Authentic Hammam vs a Hammam Spa
On my first trip to Marrakech, I visited Hammam Mouassine, the oldest hammam in Marrakech and a truly authentic activity. I learned how hammams were the bathhouses of Morocco, where locals and travelers could wash regularly (or irregularly) – usually 2-3 times a week.
In Morocco, there are two types of hammams – those for locals and those for tourists. I’m often put off by activities that differ wildly from the local experience – like gondolas in Venice, horse-drawn carriages in Vienna, etc. As such, I avoided the touristy hammam spa on my first visit to Morocco. This time, I brought Vanesa to one, and I can say with absolute conviction that they are anything but overrated.
What is a Hammam?
Your traditional hammam normally has three rooms – cold, warm, and hot. Bathers would strip to their bathing suits or underclothes in a preparation area. Some bathers could start in the cold room, and work their way up to the warm and hot rooms. The more traditional way is to start in the hot room, where they exfoliate with a black soap made with argon and olive oils. They then move to the warm room to properly wash, before moving back to the hot room to relax in the steam.
Not every hammam has all three rooms, and some of the smaller hammam spas use just a single room, although there’s usually another relaxation room to use between stages of the spa to have tea or just take a break from the heat.
Whichever room the bathers start in, each room contains barrels or sinks of hot and cold water. Visitors could wash solo or, more commonly, pair up and wash each other. The bathing normally includes a deep, vigorous scrub using sponges. Women would normally apply the ghassoul mud and wash each other’s hair.
Hammams were usually communal areas, where locals would also share gossip. Some hammams could provide someone to wash you for a small fee, but that might be more of a tourist twist in the authentic hammams, such as at Hammam Mouassine.
While not always part of the traditional hammams, tourist hammam spas often include a massage at the end of the experience. You might be able to find a massage in an authentic hammam, but that’s not a traditional part of the experience, and now mostly just found in the hammam spas for tourists.
Visiting Heritage Hammam Spa in Marrakech
For my first hammam spa experience in Marrakech, I did a ton of research to find the best in town. As good as the reviews were, I rejected Hammam de la Rose and Click Spa, as these just seemed a little too touristy (which I can’t confirm by personal experience). I also avoided the ones in the center of the medina for the same reason, even though Hammam Spa El Byadin looked really nice. Instead, I found the Heritage Spa, just outside of the main medina.
A Heavenly Hammam Spa
The Heritage Hammam Spa is located in a small group of alleys on the west side of the Medina, not far from Click Spa and Hammam de la Rose. The manager greeted me at reception, where I learned the spa has been a family-run place for nearly a decade. We were given a “menu” with different hammam treatments and massages to choose from. We picked the traditional and authentic hammam and the holistic massage.
After changing into a dainty set of underwear and donning a robe, both of which were provided, we made our way to one of two steam rooms used for the hammam treatment. It’s a very small building, so there aren’t huge rooms for groups, nor are there three separate rooms with different temperatures. Instead, Vanesa and I had our own private room. There were two raised stone ledges with thick mats on top for us to lay on, me in a pair of thin underwear and Vanesa in a tiny g-string (basically naked).
Two therapists proceeded to apply a black soap infused with eucalyptus oil to us with a kis – an exfoliation glove. This was followed by a thorough scrub before we were rinsed off with warm water from the shower. We finished with a deep cleansing mask of ghassoul from seven plants, and a final rinse to leave our skin baby smooth and soft.
There was another hammam option which included a full-body rose clay wrap, a sea-salt foot scrub, and a ylang-ylang essential oil treatment for the hair. We’ll be back for that one on our next trip.
The entire process was blissful and shared no resemblance to the “authentic” experience at Hammam Mouassine, where the scrub was harsh and the bucket of cold water at the end was less than welcome. Vanesa and I walked out of the hammam floating on cloud seven, vowing to return to Marrakech regularly for the treatment (as there’s nothing like that which I know of in Edinburgh).
After the hammam, we were led to a relaxation room decorated like a desert tent where we were given tea, mint water, and sweet pastries full of dates. It was reminiscent of my tent at the Merzouga luxury desert camp. We had several minutes for our body temperatures to return to normal before we were led to another part of the building for our massages.
The Perfect Hammam Massage
We each had our own private massage room with a highly-trained therapist. The holistic massage is a full-body massage tailored to each individual based on their tensions and discomforts. My masseuse did an incredible job finding all the knots in my legs, back, and neck and working them out. The pressure was perfect – harder than most places give and on par with the best massages I’ve had in Thailand.
I learned later that the massage therapists are all very highly trained, and then go through several more quality control checks each year to ensure they maintain the highest standards. Additionally, all the therapists at Heritage Spa have been there for over seven years, and they have a ton of experience. That was quite apparent in their skills. I wish I could have taken some photos or videos of the massage, but there was no chance I was moving from the bed once the massage started.
The holistic massage is one of seven different massage treatments offered by the Heritage Spa. The other massages are a tension recovery massage, an anti-aging renewal elasticity body care massage, a precious hot stones massage, a spicy herbal bags massage, a detox slimming massage, a sublime 4-hands massage, and a relaxing foot massage.
Frequently Asked Questions About Hammams
Are hammams nude?
For women, mostly yes. For men, no. Outside of the steam room, guests wear a robe or towel. Inside, men would wear a pair of swimming shorts or underwear, or sometimes a towel. Women are mostly naked, whether they are in communal hammams or private hammam spas. Even in the private hammams, men still wear something to cover their privates.
Are hammams invasive?
Never. A woman’s breasts could be scrubbed as just another body part to be washed, but the crotch is completely avoided for both men and women. I’m sure there are shady spas where you can get favors, but that is frowned upon by the locals, just like in Thailand where I’m constantly pointing out the difference between an authentic Thai massage and a happy-ending tourist massage.
Do men and women mix in hammams?
Not in traditional hammams. In private hammam spas designed for couples, they could share a room together, but that’s not the way an authentic hammam operates. At the Hammam Mouassine, the men’s and women’s entrances to the hammam are on two different streets.
How many people are in a hammam at one time?
In a traditional, communal hammam, you could get a couple dozen people in the same room, depending on the size. Women often visit the hammams in groups and scrub each other, wash each other’s hair, etc. At private hammam spas like the Heritage Spa, it’s only two at a time. The Heritage Spa has two hammams, so they can serve up to 20 couples a day, staggered every hour for 10 hours.
Do locals use hammams?
Not as much anymore. Hammams were designed for locals who didn’t have access to plumbing or bathing facilities at home. That’s not really the case anymore. Most modern Moroccan homes have full bathroom facilities, so there’s not really a reason for locals to frequent hammams unless they want to treat themselves to a spa. Of course, the nomadic tribes or anyone in the country who doesn’t have plumbing at home could still use a hammam.
What is ghassoul?
Ghassoul is the Moroccan mud used by the women as a clay mask in the hammam. It’s rich in magnesium, silica, potassium, and calcium. Men don’t commonly use the ghassoul, although I’m sure you could ask for it specifically if you wanted to.
Booking a Hammam Spa in Marrakech
The Heritage Spa is currently open 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., 7 days a week. You can make a reservation directly on their website, which includes the current prices. I would absolutely recommend going for one of the bigger packages. After all, if you’re only looking for the hammam itself, there are more traditional places in town. This spa specializes in complete therapy packages, and their massages are incredible.
At the time of this writing, the two hammam packages are 350 and 400 dirhams respectively (~$35-40 USD). The massages range from 250 to 850 dirhams (~$25-85 USD). Packages including both the hammam and a massage range from 700 to 1300 dirhams (~$70-130 USD). But again, prices change with inflation, so make sure to check out the Heritage Spa website for current prices.
Headed to Morocco? Here are some other articles to check out which will help with your adventures in the country.
- How Easy and Hard Getting Into Morocco Was for Me
- Marrakech Excursions: A Day Trip to the Coastal Town of Essaouira, Morocco
- A Fantastic African Desert Safari at the Merzouga Luxury Desert Camp
- What an Authentic Hammam for Men in Marrakech is Really Like
- A Complete Guide to Visiting Marrakech on a Budget
- A Moroccan Food Tour to Find the Best Dishes of Marrakech
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