Published on October 22nd, 2013 | by Mark Chesnut
Touring a Panama Hat Factory — in Cuenca, Ecuador
In case you haven’t heard, Panama hats aren’t from Panama. These perennially popular fashion statements — correctly called toquilla straw hats — were born in Ecuador, probably in the 17th century. Like many goods produced in South America back then, these stylish men’s hats were shipped to the rest of the world via Panama (even before the Panama Canal opened, that Central American region was an important trade hub). As a result, over time, people started calling the creations Panama hats, and the name stuck.
The historic city of Cuenca, Ecuador — an important stop on foreign visitor’s travel itineraries in this South American nation — is the best place to learn about (and shop for) these legendary hats. During a recent visit while staying at the Hotel Oro Verde, I was invited on a tour of the headquarters of Homero Ortega, one of the nation’s largest producers of toquilla hats. It was interesting to stroll through the company’s facility, which includes an exhibit area that highlights the history and traditions of hat making. Paja toquilla — shawl straw — comes from the palm of the Carludovica Palmata plant, and is used for everything from home decor to baskets, bags, purses and, of course, so-called Panama hats. The process is rather labor intensive, so it’s no surprise that — depending on the quality and amount of time involved — these hats can easily cost hundreds of dollars.
MORE ECUADOR TRAVEL TIPS & INSPIRATION:
• TRAVEL PHOTOS: Top 5 Reasons to Visit Cuenca, Ecuador
• HOTEL REVIEW: Hotel Oro Verde Cuenca
• HOTEL REVIEW: Bellavista Cloud Forest Reserve & Lodge
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