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Many visitors to Morocco dream of witnessing the awesome beauty of the huge and arid Sahara Desert. The unforgiving terrain is harsh, traditionally only traversed by nomadic groups with the knowledge and skills to survive in the desert. Several Moroccan destinations offer visitors the chance to experience the mighty Sahara in all its splendour, with activities like camping, hiking, camel trekking, ATV riding, and photography popular. There is another enticing activity to enjoy in the Sahara too: a traditional therapeutic sand bath. Read on to find out more.
Moroccan sand bath therapy may be a fairly new concept to Western visitors, but the procedure has a long history in the Sahara region. Berber tribal groups with close connections to the land have bathed in the sands for hundreds of years, developing the knowledge needed to not only use the sand for therapeutic reasons but also how to do so safely. Other parts of the world also use sand for therapy, with the use having been recording by ancient Egyptians and Greeks too.
The process has long been known around Morocco, with large numbers of Moroccans heading to the desert region each year to bathe in hot sand.
The Berbers were originally nomadic groups and would bathe in the sands wherever they travelled. Varied circumstances have led to many nomadic groups settling in a particular area, often on the fringes of the desert, and seeking new opportunities and ways to make a living. One way for local Berbers to use their knowledge and the environment while showing their traditions and culture to outsiders is to promote sand bath therapy in the Sahara.
Men and women dig holes in the sandy desert big enough to fully accommodate a person. Holes are usually around a foot deep. The best time for locals to dig the holes is, understandably, in the morning, before the glaring sun makes heavy manual work even more difficult. The holes sit open for at least half an hour after being dug so that the sand can absorb more heat.
Once the sand is hot enough a person is buried up to their neck. Completely covered by hot sand, visitors spend anywhere from ten to 30 minutes lying in the desert. Most people wear a hat or other type of head covering to reduce the risk of sunstroke, and it’s common to see people with scarves completely covering the small amount of body that is not in the sand.
Of course, the sand is very hot when a person first lies down, with temperatures of up to 45 degrees Celsius. It only takes a few minutes, however, for the body to adapt and for people to be able to relax.
Assistants keep a watchful eye on participants, ready to dig them out if the heat becomes too much. They also provide drinks to prevent dehydration. It might not be glamorous drinking through a straw from a bottle of water held by somebody else but, with no use of the hands and buried in piping hot sand, it is essential.
Following the actual sand bath people are immediately wrapped in a warm blanket. This is to prevent the body from cooling down too quickly, which can have an adverse effect. They are also encouraged to drink water or other fluids, including herbal tea. Patients sit and relax for a while, often inside a tent.
While relaxing, people continue to sweat. The sweat mixes with the grains of sand that still cling to the body, creating a rough mud-like substance. After around an hour, people can take a shower to freshen up and cool down further.
Used as a natural therapy, a sand bath isn’t only relaxing. Thought to have similar effects to a sauna, in that it cleanses the body and helps to remove toxins through sweating, the sand bath has the added benefit of the weight of the hot sand pressing down on the body to help loosen muscles too. The hot sand soothes the body without causing burns.
It is said that a sand bath provides relief for people suffering from a range of muscular disorders as well as helping to ease the symptoms and heal various skin conditions too. People suffering from rheumatism, arthritis, sciatica, acne, and psoriasis, among other conditions, may find a sand bath treatment to be particularly beneficial.
The combination of heat, the dry conditions, the sun’s rays, and minerals in the sand are all believed to play a part in the effectiveness of sand bath therapy.
The high temperatures and weight of the sand can help to increase blood flow around the body. The grains exfoliate the skin, and minerals can be absorbed. The pores open more in the heat, allowing more toxin-reducing sweat, itself stimulated by the increase in temperature, to leave the body. The surrounding sand absorbs moisture from the body.
Due to the high temperatures of the sand, people who have underlying heart conditions, exceptionally sensitive skin, and high blood pressure are advised to refrain from bathing in sand. If in doubt, people should consult with a medical professional before undergoing the treatment.
Because sand bath therapies rely on the sand being hot, having been naturally heated by the blazing sun, the summer months are the best time to have a sand bath treatment in the Moroccan Sahara. Treatments are typically offered between June and September, though the hottest months of July and August offer the ultimate sand bath experience.
Several groups around the fringes of the Sahara offer sand bath treatments, but the most operators can be found in Merzouga and Zagora. These two towns are also close to huge sand dunes, Erg Chebbi and Erg Chigaga respectively, allowing bathers to feast their eyes on incredible views while buried in the hot sand.
Merzouga is especially popular for sand baths, largely because of the high quality sand, terrific vistas, and good infrastructure.
Some spas also offer treatment with hot sand but, while relaxing and therapeutic, they certainly don’t provide the same awesome experience as bathing right in the sands of the mighty Sahara does!
Are you eager to experience even more wellness treatments around Morocco? In addition to the traditional Moroccan hammam, which can be found almost anywhere around the nation, other places to visit include the hot springs of Moulay Yacoub and Ain Allah, both near Fez, and Tighdouine, where you can cover yourself in mineral-rich mud.