The Panama hat - Made in EcuadorThinking about the Panama hat resting on your head? If you are and assume that it is made in Panama you will soon discover such hats are actually made in Ecuador. Then as you delve into the history of the hat, the different qualities that are available and the skilled artisans involved in its weaving, you will understand that there is more to it that meets the eye. Here is what else you need to know about this woven straw hat and why it is often thought of as “Panama Canal hats”.

More about Ecuador’s finest Panama hats

Finely woven, each Panama hat produced in Ecuador is created from toquilla straw. Here you will find many that are mass produced in the city of Cuenca in the Andes, while others that are of much better quality are simply known as a “Montecristi superfino”. As their name suggests these hats are produced around the town of Montecristi and even have a superior herringbone weave, compared to the cheaper mass produced versions that are created with another weave.

The best Panama hat produced so far has 4,000 weaves crowded into a square inch, and took over eight months to create. Lesser quality Panama hats have about 3,000 weaves in every square inch and cost around $25,000 each. These are only produced around the town of Montecristi where Simon Espinal is considered to be the best weaver.

Qualities of the ‘superfino’ Panama hat

If you are in search of the best Panama hat and if you find one, you can even use it to carry water. Additionally, these “superfino” hats have the consistency of linen, can be rolled up when not in use and can even pass through a wedding ring.

History behind the Panama hat

Archaeological evidence suggests that toquilla straw hats have been in use since 4000 B.C. but their design was different and importantly did not incorporate a brim. Since then they have even adopted by the conquistadors from Spain who arrived in Ecuador around 1526, at which point of time this hat was just referred to as a “toque”.

How did the Panama hat get its name?

Panama has played host to travelers over the centuries as they journeyed over the isthmus and made their way from the eastern part of the United States to the western coast. However, during the gold rush period between 1848 and 1855 the hat increasingly became disassociated with Ecuador. This happened, because as prospectors heading to California bought the hat made in Ecuador, from Panama they conveniently branded it as a “Panama hat” forgetting about its country of origin. Slowly the name stuck as over 200,000 were sold per year, and the Panama hat which is Ecuador’s most well known export came be to be associated with a different country altogether.

The Panama hat
President Theodore Roosevelt at the Panama Canal, sitting on a steam shovel and wearing a Panama hat

After air travel became common place, the construction of the Panama Canal caused the hat to find even more fans and continue its association with the wrong country. In fact when the President of the United States Theodore Roosevelt visited the canal in 1906 he was photographed wearing one and it was quickly described as “Panama Canal hats’. However, even before the president was pictured in newspapers with this hat, Panama Canal hats were a big favorite among the people building the canal and they showed up in almost all photographs.

As the canal rose to international fame, so did Panama Canal hats until they could not be separated from the “world greatest shortcut” or the country on the whole.

If you are in South America and want to pick up a Panama hat you can just check out several tours that cover Cuenca. Luxury trains such as the Tren Crucero also cover the area as part of a four night tour, so you have several options to choose from. Contact Palace Tours if you want to know more about visiting Panama or Ecuador.