How to buy a Panama hat in Ecuador.

By Posted in - Ecuador & Travel Blog on April 1st, 2013 Checking the quality of a Panama hat in Ecuador.


Checking the quality of 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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(14) awesome folk have had something to say...

  • Casey @ A Cruising Couple -

    April 1, 2013 at 7:04 am

    Sounds like a pretty good deal 🙂 I fell in love with quite a few Panama hats during my time in Ecuador, but of course they were all out of my price range. My favorite travel item is authentic artwork. I always squeeze a little extra room in my budget for it, especially if it’s a hand painted scene of somewhere I’m currently traveling. Of course, determining if it’s authentic or not is another question…

    • Bethany -

      April 2, 2013 at 12:21 pm

      Hi Casey,

      That’s a great idea! Once I was able to buy a painting in Guatemala and I still treasure it. 🙂

  • Andi of My Beautiful Adventures -

    April 1, 2013 at 10:32 am

    I have one and love it, though sadly it was not purchased in Panama!

    • Bethany -

      April 2, 2013 at 12:26 pm

      I wish I had one too! Randy got one and I contemplated it, should’ve gone for it!

  • Pointsanddtravel -

    April 1, 2013 at 12:40 pm

    I picked up my Panamanian hat in Chordeleg, Educador, right outside of Cuenca. They had some really great, tightly woven hats there, I love it and wear it in hotter climates on my travels.

  • Emily -

    April 3, 2013 at 5:11 am

    My sweet hubby Mark and have been traveling full-time for 6 years, half of that on a sailboat on the Mexican coast. We have picked up some awesome hats along the way, and hat shopping has been a highlight in various coastal towns. Our daily hats are simple straw hats with brightly colored touristy bands around them. It’s the hat hanging off my neck in my photo here!!

    But the best Mexican hats we have are our two “lampshades” that we picked up in Ensenada. These are the ultimate hats for keeping your face and entire body shaded. But it sure is hard to see anything when you where one — because the shape is truly a lampshade!!

  • Sam -

    April 3, 2013 at 6:30 am

    Nice piece! We’ll definitely be on the look out for one of these in Ecuador, as my partner has something of a penchant for fancy hats. Now we know what to look for!

    • Bethany -

      April 3, 2013 at 7:11 am

      Randy’s been wearing his hat non-stop since he got it. Have fun in Ecuador and let us know if you need any tips. 🙂 p.s. a little trip to the Equator is really fun!

  • Jess @UsedYorkCity -

    April 3, 2013 at 11:16 am

    Loving the hat! I picked up a similar one in Japan 2 summers ago simply because it was SO hot I needed something to keep the heat off my face. In almost every picture I have from the trip I’m donning the hat;-)

  • Evan Schrwaz -

    April 5, 2013 at 1:23 am

    I was in Panama in 1995 but now in Canada, my soul still resides there. love it !!

  • James -

    April 5, 2013 at 9:10 pm

    It was good to know the history of these famed Panama hats. I went to Nepal a few years back, and picked up a shawl from there. Back then it was completely because of the beauty of the shawl, but with the passage of time, I realized that though unaware of the truth, I made a wise decision.

  • James -

    April 5, 2013 at 11:06 pm

    This sounds very interesting to me. I have already planned my trip to Ecuador this weekend. I have heard that you can get customized hat within a few days from some workshop over there? Is it true? The plus point is this customized hat is shipped by them anywhere in the world. Normally, during my business trips, I am not very fussy about getting things during my travel. But hat is something which I can’t leave out. I have a huge interest in hats and quite fussy about the styling of hat. I am really looking forward to visit Ecuador. Thanks for such an amazing share, dude!

  • James -

    April 6, 2013 at 2:19 am

    I Have a good collection of caps & this hat is always special, Stylish & protective. I picked this hat when I was in China last year. Good post, thanks for sharing.

  • Helen -

    April 7, 2013 at 1:35 pm

    Thats a brilliant story. I didn’t know they were rollable, Ive killed so many hats backpacking that I’ve always fancied one that I can throw in a bag and comes back out again unscathed.
    And for some reason panama hats always make me smile, is that just me?