After the disappointingly flat coastline, Cuenca was a pleasant surprise and we settled in at Posada Todos Santos, home to South America’s best hot shower (according to Joydrive!).
We wandered the cute streets and came across more than a few Panama Hat shops. I know…isn’t the Panama Hat from Panama?
Actually, the Panama Hat is and has always been from Ecuador. Here it is known as a sombrero de paja toquilla to Ecuadorians. This rather large misnomer all started back in the 1800s when the Spanish realized the exceptional quality of these hats and started exporting them via Panama. Then, in the early 19th century the workers on the Panama Canal started to use the same hats as protection from the powerful sun and, lo and behold, the hat quickly became known as the “Panama Hat”.
The Panama Hat can take anywhere from a week to three months to make depending on the quality. Hats are graded into four categories depending on their weave: standard, superior, fino (fine) and superfino (superfine). You can buy a standard hat between $10 to $15USD but if you are in the market for a superfino expect to pay upwards of $400 USD. The best quality hats can hold water and be rolled up to fit through a man’s wedding ring, bouncing back to their original shape!
Even cooler, the locals get their hats cleaned and repaired at shops around the city and seeing walls of white hats, each with a name tag attached, it was easy to see how important the Panama Hat is to the Ecuadorian community.