Public Hammams in Morocco
When I read hammam I immediately thought of Morocco. Indeed hammams are extremely common there, to the point that every neighborhood in Marrakech has its own public hammam along with its own mosque (hammams can be used for religious ablutions). I suspect the same would hold for Rabat and other large cities. Locating public hammams is fairly easy: look for buildings with one outer wall visibly stained charcoal-black by the smoke of the wood burning to warm up the water. Personally I would go to a public hammam. It doesn't get any more authentic than that.
Looking around I found this informative blog post with tons of information on hammams, the rituals and the do's and don't's. Quoted below are bits and pieces of this information:
What to bring to a hammam
Moroccans take the following toiletries to the bathhouse:
- scrub glove,
- small, jug-style plastic bucket to pour water over your body,
- swimsuit or extra underwear
- shaving cream and razor.
Hammams usually sell travel-size bottles of shampoo and soap. When available, buy "sabon beldi," a unique black olive oil soap. You will find this easily in the souks. Also ask if they sell "ghasoul" or "rhassoul", a lava clay that is used to scrub the skin.
There are a couple of things that you can do to upset Moroccans in a hammam. Wasting water is one of them. Water is scarce in Morocco and splashing it around in large quantities is considered imprudent and rude. Only use as much water as you need to wash and rinse.
Even more seriously offensive is stripping completely naked in a hammam. There are no exceptions in men's bathhouses, but in some women's hammams people have reported Moroccan women going complete naked. Still, women tourists should only bare all when they see Moroccans doing it. As a general rule keep panties on! (take a spare dry pair to change into afterwards).
Although hammams are basically for hygiene, they also have an important social function. This is especially true for more "traditional" women, who rarely leave their house except for a visit to the hammam. People like to chat in hammams, discussing the latest news and gossip.
As a tourist, you may be quite an event in a public hammam. You will receive a lot of attention. Enjoy your special status - a hammam is a great place to get to know Moroccans. Don't be surprised if you're invited over for drinks or dinner.
Private Hammams in Morocco
A valid alternative to the public hammams, although arguably less authentic, are the ones which can be found in most ryads and hotels. Sometimes these are complementary with your stay, most of the time they are not. Very often you'll get a head-to-toe treatment in a slight more luxurious way that you would in a public hammam, since in the latter you'd most probably have to do everything yourself. Being private doesn't make the experience any less authentic. Rather it just makes it more private: very often there will be just you and the person taking care of you in the hammam.
Private hammams will also be considerably more expensive than the public ones (something like 10 times more expensive). Quoting from the linked website:
How much a hammam costs
A bath in a public hammam usually costs around 5 or 10 dirham . Towels, soap and other toiletries are available for a couple of dirhams.
If you take a massage from one of the staff in a public hammam, you are expected to tip him 10 or 15 dirham .
As you leave the bathhouse, it's custom to tip the front desk attendant one or two dirham.
Hammams in hotels and riads ask up to 300 to 500 dirham for a hammam experience. Expect to pay another few hundred dirham for a massage.