The beautiful, fine woven Panama hats are famous all around the world. However, many people do not know is that these hats are actually made in Montecristi, a small village in the Ecuadorian coast.
The history of weaving products with the Paja Toquilla palm goes back to 500 AD. From this period, people in coastal region developed the fine technique that gave the Panama hat its worldwide fame. The first time Panama hats left Ecuador was when Manuel Alfaro exported them to California to be used during the Gold Rush in the 19th century. Manuel Alfaro lived in Montecristi and was the father of Eloy Alfaro, who later became president of Ecuador.
Until then, the hats were still called “Paja Toquilla” hats, named after the material they are made of. The new name came into sight in 1855, when a French man living in Panama, Philippe Raimondi, took some hats from Montecristi to Paris to present them on the World Fair. Just named ‘straw hats’ in the catalogue of the event; its visitors called the fine hats from Ecuador “Panama hats”.
Fifty years later, in 1904, the popularity of the Panama hats increased when President Roosevelt wore one while visiting the construction site of the Panama Canal. Prominent men around the world started wearing these hats, making them a symbol of masculine elegance. For a period of time, the Panama Hats were Ecuador`s number one export product.
Today, you can buy Panama hats all around Ecuador. Their authenticity can be recognized by fine designs and a thin texture.
Every hat is unique, even though the base is always made with the similar technique. Producing a Panama hat requires a lot of skill, eye for detail and creativity. But most of all, you need patience: it takes about one month to produce a good quality Panama hat.
Do you want to see how Panama hats are made and buy one from the very first source? With our tours you have the opportunity to visit Montecristi and Cuenca where they make the hats, together with many other amazing places in Ecuador.