How to buy a Panama hat in Ecuador.
Hunter Thompson, Ernest Hemingway, Paul Newman and Teddy Roosevelt have all donned the virgin white hat.
Known around the world as a Panama hat, this bleached headpiece adorned with a black band has become synonymous with the tropics. But what if I told you that the Panama Hat isn’t actually from Panama. It turns out that these iconic hats, even to this day, are purely Ecuadorian.
Stopping at a hat merchant in the highland market of Otavalo, our Adventure Life guide, Daniel, explained to us how the Panama hat came into existence.
The story goes that one of the cats who was in charge of the Panama Canal’s work force came down to Ecuador to buy these hats known by Ecuadorians as Toquilla, after the palm from which the hat is woven, for his crew. Apparently, Panamanians didn’t have anything like this hat–lightweight, rollable and waterproof–so the boss man imported them up to the canal. President Roosevelt further elevated the hat’s status after being photographed in one during his visit to the Panama Canal.
Woven entirely by hand from the fonds of the toquilla palm, no two hats are exactly alike. “The best way to see the quality of a Panama hat is to hold it up to the sunlight,” Daniel told us. “The tighter the weave, the better the build.”
Like most things, prices vary widely with higher end Panama hats cost upwards of $200. After some heavy negotiating, we were able to get two hats for $30, which included a wooden box and alternative band for each. And while you won’t find any of the top dollar hats at the market, it is still important to check out the tightness of the weave, because it can vary from hat to hat.
I’ve never really worn hat like this before, but have always wanted one. Now that we are back home I’m pretty psyched that I went ahead and bought it. Since we were always on a pretty tight budget when we travel, I rarely buy anything for myself, opting instead to get gifts for friends and family, but this year I’m really trying to pick up something for myself on each trip. It doesn’t have to be much, just something special from each place that means something to me, cause let’s face it you just never know when you are going to be back again.
What’s a favorite item that you’ve picked up in your travels?
*This story is part of our #GoGalapagos collection, which is a collaboration with Adventure Life, who hosted our trip to Quito and the Galapagos Islands. As always our thoughts and opinions are entirely our own.
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