The hat making business is quite the tradition in a country like Ecuador, which just so happens to be the home of the world-renowned, but mistakenly named “Panama Hat.” That’s right! This popular hat is in fact 100% Ecuadorian and comes in handy for protecting you from the strong sun rays that often grace the highlands of this beautiful country.
If you’re looking to add a dash of style to your wardrobe and sun protection as you explore Ecuador, look no further than this traditional Ecuadorian hat that’s crafted throughout the country, available in the cities of Quito, Cuenca, and Montecristi (Manabi Province)!
How are traditional Ecuadorian hats (Panama hats) made?
Hats from Ecuador, mistakenly referred to as Panama hats, are crafted from the fibers of the toquilla palm that grows on the coasts of Ecuador and is known for its softness, flexibility, and durability—making it an ideal material for this type of hat.
Ecuador hats tend to feature a relatively high crown that contains a depression within its peak. A black band adorns the width of the crown and positioned right above the brim. The brim itself is typically down-turned in the front and upturned in the back.
The most luxurious and pricey Panama hats in Ecuador can feature up to 3,000 weaves of toquilla straw per square inch. These weaves are so intricate that they can hold water and yet still be rolled up and slipped through a wedding ring!
Why did the country of Panama become a part of this Ecuadorian hat’s name?
The production of these traditional hats began in Ecuador in the mid-1600s as a part-time hobby, but it wasn’t until the 17th and 18th centuries that the finely-crafted hats gained worldwide popularity. The Ecuadorian coastal town of Montecristi became a hub for creating these hats, and an Ecuadorian by the name of Manuel Alfaro saw their export potential and established a business there in 1835, sending these Ecuadorian hats off to the nearby port cities of Guayaquil and Manta, which would then export them to Panama.
This business move of his coincided with the influx of miners from the U.S. East Coast that found themselves venturing to California for the Gold Rush. Those that passed through the ports of Panama along the way there came across these iconic hats from Ecuador, purchased them in droves, and ultimately the name stuck—these hats were named after their place of purchase rather than their place of origin.
Today, the production of “Panama” hats in Ecuador is mainly concentrated in Montecristi, with few weavers capable of making the “superfine” hats.
Where can I buy Panama hats in Quito?
Panama hats can be easily found in Quito’s Old Town. In fact, if you’re looking to purchase one during your stay with us at Casa Gangotena, you can find one of the best Panama Hat stores in all of Quito right across the San Francisco Plaza out front! Casa Montecristi offers our guests some of the best-in-class Panama Hats in Quito—with a grand variety of options, sizes, and styles available—just steps away from our Boutique Hotel!
Another location for acquiring Panama hats (among other souveniers) in Quito, Ecuador is the Artisan’s Market located in the La Mariscal neighborhood, a short taxi ride away from Old Town. When purchasing them here, you’ll be able to haggle and negotiate a lower price, if you’re not too shy!
Where can I buy Panama hats in Cuenca?
The popular ex-pat city of Cuenca is located in the Azuay Province of Ecuador and is frequently visited by those looking to dive deep into Panama hat production. Visitors here will find a grand variety of shops and marketplaces that sell numerous styles and qualities of Panama hats. Museo del Sombrero de Paja Toquilla in Cuenca is frequently ranked among the best places to acquire high-quality Panama hats in Ecuador.
Where can I buy Panama hats on the coast of Ecuador?
If you’re looking to head “straight to the source” of Panama hat production in Ecuador, then look no further than its official birthplace—Montecristi City, located in the province of Manabi. Once here, you’ll not only be able to browse a grand variety of authentic, high-quality Panama hats in Ecuador, but also even witness their production. On the weekends, in particular, it’s not uncommon to see artisan’s making them, in real-time, along the streets of Montecrisiti City. Modesto Hats is known for being the prime distributor of the best-in-class Panama hats, so be sure to swing by their store to get your own, straight from the source and of the finest quality!