Written by Natalie
While traveling throughout Morocco on an Intrepid Tour in 2020, I decided to go to a traditional Hamman Bath.
After a week of some very long, yet very fun, days of traveling, I was excited to have a relaxing spa day. What enticed me about this experience even more was how little it cost. An hour and a half massage/Hamman Bath in Morocco was only about $30 US dollars (about 300 Durham), whereas an hour massage in the US typically costs $60+ US dollars.
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Comically Inaccurate Expectations
I hadn’t researched a Hamman bath prior to arriving in Morocco. For the most part, I was expecting it to be similar to any other spa experiences I have had in the US. I figured the experience would include a typical massage and maybe a body scrub. Further, as women tend to be more conservative in Morocco than the US, I was expecting the experience might be a bit more modest than in the US. To my surprise, the experience was much different than I anticipated. Reflecting on my inaccurate expectations, the experience was exceedingly comical.
Sam opted to not do this spa day so I went with several friends we had met on our tour—two men and three other women (four including me). All of them were from Australia and the UK. When we arrived at the spa, the women working there were all dressed in conservative traditional Moroccan wear, including hijabs and had all of their extremities covered. These ladies were speaking little to no English as they brought us back to a locker room. Once in the locker room, they instructed us, through body language, to change into these robes. I thought, “Okay, robes. Seems pretty typical of any other spa.” If only I knew what was coming next.
Next, these women brought the four of us girls to a small, warm, sauna-like room with four solid long benches outlining the room. They sat us each on our own bench and then started speaking to us in Arabic. We did not understand anything they were saying but before we knew it, they were ripping our robes off, one by one. Now, at this point, I thought our two male co-travelers were joining us. Granted, I had become good friends with these guys on this trip after traveling together for over a week but certainly not naked close. I mean, goodness gracious, I’m married. So when they tried to rip my robe off, I held on for dear life.
I had about a minute of back and forth conversation between these women speaking Arabic and myself speaking English. After stating “No no no, not if the boys are coming” numerous times, it became clear to these women that I was concerned the boys were coming into our sauna-like room. These women then proceeded to reassure me by saying in broken English “no boys, no boys, no boys!”. Feeling relieved my new male friends were not going to see me naked, the spa workers kindly hugged me. This gesture signalled I should feel safe. These women then proceeded to whip my robe off. This is where, if able, I would insert the surprised face emoji. Surprised and naive to what was occurring, I thought “Okay, I guess they really want me naked for this. I guess I’ll see what this is all about.”
After ripping off our robes, these very modestly dressed women laid each of us on one of the benches outlining the room. They left us in this sauna-like warm room for a good 10+ minutes. During this time, we expected they would return at any minute but after about 10 minutes we wondered if they were ever coming back.
Just as we were really starting to get concerned we may boil in the room, the 2 women came back in and turned on a flowing fountain-like water supply in the corner of the room. They each proceeded to fill buckets with water before splashing this water onto us. And when I say splashing, I mean throwing water on us, from the buckets, while laying down. This certainly woke us up!
Next, the women scrubbed us from head to toe, leaving no areas of the body unscrubbed. And when I say no areas of the body were unscrubbed, I mean no areas of the body were unscrubbed. I am not sure what type of scrub they used but it certainly was effective. Dead skin I didn’t even know I had appeared in unbelievable quantities while they were scrubbing. When I thought no more of my body could be scrubbed, they would find a new part to scrub. As they were scrubbing my body, I noticed some mascara was running on my left cheek. When they saw me try to rub this away, they proceeded to scrub my left cheek and questionably my left eyeball. I have a very sensitive left eye, and it started to water profusely. But don’t worry, my eyeball was at least very clean. Like I said, no part of the body is not scrubbed, even the eyeball!
After this DEEP cleanse, the women sat each of us in a chair near the center of the room. They filled the buckets with water again before pouring them over our head to get all the scrub/dead skin off. Again, this pouring over our heads was more like aggressive throwing of water at our faces. I tilted my head back several times to encourage them to pour the water over my head instead of at my face but they still threw the water at my face. It felt like a large wave crashing against my face again and again. This ensured I stayed awake!
After we were all cleaned up, we went for about a 30 minute massage. Unlike the Hamman Bath, the massage experience was very similar to other massages I have had in the US. No scrubbing or waterboarding involved!
At the end of this Moroccan spa experience, we were served some traditional Moroccan tea. My friends and I sat around, in our robes, drinking this green tea. We all concurred the Hamman Bath experience was a bit different than what we expected. We did admire our exceedingly clean skin though. All of us agreed that we were the cleanest we had ever been before and our skin had never felt more smooth. At points during the bath, I thought my skin might become raw because they were scrubbing so hard. Instead, it was in the best condition it had ever been.
Unexpected Yet Grateful
Even though I was not expecting to have this experience at the Hamman Bath, I am glad I had it. The unexpected experience is much more memorable and my skin will never be as smooth as it was that day. I find it interesting how we tend to look back on unexpected or uncomfortable experiences fondly. As time passes, these types of experiences only become more memorable.
The cultural norm for women in Morocco is to be conservative. I view these Hamman Baths as an opportunity for them to let go of this more rigid conservatism and just relax with their family/friends.
These Hamman Baths are all over Morocco. I had mine in Essaouira but we saw them in every major city in Morocco. So if you want to experience it yourself while in Morocco, you will have ample opportunity.
Have you gone to a Hamman Bath? What were you expecting? Would you try a Hamman Bath while aboard? I’d love to hear your feedback and questions. Please leave a comment!
And remember, Always Have A Trip Planned!
We explored Morocco with Intrepid and highly recommend using this company. Their sustainable small group tour travel model is one we fully support. Intrepid offers many different Morocco tour options and the one we took was South Morocco Discovery trip. Explore trips offered by Intrepid using this link!
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