Hammams, or traditional public bathhouses, are a staple of North African life, and have been for centuries. Every quarter in each city’s ancient medina revolves around four neighborhood requisites: a mosque, a public fountain, a bakery, and a hammam, the last of which is frequented by residents at least once a week for a thorough scrub.
Tourists are welcome to try them out, but you must be prepared for a rather jarring experience: aside from the near-total nudity involved (baths are separated by gender), you’ll have to lie face-down on a stone slab and be literally thrashed by a stranger wielding a coarse mitt and exfoliating cream. It’s not for the faint of heart (or skin).
If you’re a bit squeamish at the prospect of going truly authentic and joining dozens of nude locals while subjecting yourself to a tough, no-mercy scrubdown, check if your riad or hotel has a spa with a private hammam. They range from fairly basic and inexpensive to swank and very pricey, with lots of extras included.
These hammams are patronized predominantly by tourists and offer a slightly gentler experience, plus they normally offer a massage at the end, which isn’t a part of the “traditional” hammam experience. But you’ll be glad to have it, as your body will need some soothing after all that thrashing about!