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Before I went to Morocco, I had no idea what a hammam was, let alone whether I should try a hammam for men in Marrakech.
What is a Hammam for Men
I confess I may have thought of a Muslim harem when someone first mentioned the word “hammam.” A harem is the part of the household dedicated to women, while a hammam is a Moroccan spa. Although women can partake in a hammam, they were actually designed for men.
As I arrived in Marrakech, I quickly got the impression that they were all for women. All over the city were luxury spas offering top-notch pampering. One famous establishment in town advertised their basic hammam for 250 Moroccan dirhams ($26) and had other packages for as much as 450 dirhams $47, depending on how many scrubs and massages you wanted with your hammam.
Apparently, there are two very different types of hammams. Simply put, one is for tourists and the other is for locals. The tourist ones are more like a spa where you have someone else washing you, scrubbing you and perhaps giving you a massage. The local version is almost the opposite.
An authentic hammam is just a bathhouse for the locals to clean off the dirt and grime invariably accumulated after traveling through the desert. Usually the locals bring their own soap, but the hammam can provide it too. The biggest difference is the price. While tourist hammams charge $20-$50, the locals only have to pay 10 dirhams ($1) to use the hammam.
As a trained massage therapist, I love to experience different massages and spas around the world. But I didn’t want to go over budget in Morocco, especially when I had several locals telling me how cheap a real hammam was.
So I set out to find an authentic hammam for men in Marrakech. I was actually given a recommendation from my tour guide on my Marrakech walking tour. When I followed up on it, I found the location to be an acceptable suggestion.
Getting an (Almost) Authentic Hammam in Marrakech
A couple days before it was time to leave Morocco, I made my way to Hammam Mouassine, no small task when you have to navigate through the rat warren of streets that comprise the Marrakech Medina. Hammam Mouassine was established in 1562, and is a hammam just for men. It’s certainly not luxury in any sense of the word. In fact, a casual glance of the exterior might even put you off from wanting to visit at all.
I went in, still not really having any idea of what to expect. Inside was a small reception area with some towels and cubbies for storing your stuff. The manager showed me the menu. Their basic hammam package was 150 dirhams ($16), and there were a few different massages and scrubs to choose from. I wanted to try the Moroccan massage package for 300, but I hadn’t brought enough money with me. I pulled out what I had and asked if I could get a special deal. The manager barely hesitated before he accepted my money and directed me to the changing room.
One thing I had heard about the hammams is that you’re fully naked. I’d even had some blogger friends tell me stories of rather uncomfortable experiences about fully stripping in front of strangers. Thankfully it turned out that this was not always the case. In the fancier spas, they usually have private rooms for each person, although you still have the masseur or masseuse observing you in your birthday suit.
Thankfully, I was given a pair of shorts to wear. My clothes and sandals went into a basket which I was told would be returned to me later (I was a little concerned that my passport was in the pocket of my shorts, but nothing was taken). After donning my trunks, I was led into the first room of the hammam.
While the outside of the hammam is unassuming, the interior is even more so. It looks like it hasn’t been renovated since its construction in 1562. The bare, nondescript shower rooms have undressed stone walls and concrete stained with an ancient patina on the floor.
I was directed to sit on a thin yoga-style mat on the ground. A few minutes later, a local came in. He filled up a couple buckets from one of the taps lining the wall, and then slowly poured one over me. The water was hot, but not scalding. He then used a thick soap to wash my entire body (well, not quite everything; he thankfully avoided the shorts). I had my eyes closed against all the suds that were running out of my hair, so I didn’t get to see what kind of soap it was. It felt slimy.
This was followed by more buckets of water to wash away all the soap. Next was the scrub. Some sort of clay or exfoliating substance (I still had my eyes closed) was ruthlessly rubbed all over my skin. It was certainly a rough treatment, but I knew it was getting rid of all the dead skin and I had no problem with it. However, the last action was a final bucket of water dumped over my head. I don’t mind water thrown at my head, but that one was ice cold! A couple more buckets of cold water were poured over me to get rid of the scrub and I was directed into the next room.
There are only two rooms (that I saw) at the Hammam Mouassine. The second is apparently the steam room, which also has water faucets around the room for filling up more buckets. But my cleaning was over. I was directed to lay down on another mat, which I did for several minutes. Then another man came in and gave me what was apparently a Moroccan massage.
It was amazing. I can only describe it as a combination of a deep-tissue sports massage and the assisted yoga stretching of a Thai massage. For several minutes (I really lost time with that one), he pounded and twisted all the tension out of my body. By the end, although a little unsteady, I was completely relaxed.
The best part of the experience was how professional every member of the staff were. Despite all the horror stories I had heard, I was never made to feel uncomfortable, either with nudity or in any of the actions of my…umm…manservants – or whatever the right term should be. Obviously the decor is nothing impressive, but the experience was amazing and something I would very much enjoy doing again.
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Headed to Morocco? Here are my other articles about my first 12-day adventure 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
- A Backpacker’s Guide: How Not to Go Broke Traveling to Marrakech, Morocco
Here’s some extra reading to save hundreds on your next vacation or stage of your journey.