Panama Hats: The Man and Woman In the Panama Hat

Panama Hats originated in Ecuador.

In fact, Panama hats originated very close to Cuenca, Ecuador.

So why are they called Panama hats?

Well, that’s a long (perhaps sordid) tale involving:

  • One of the journeys of Eloy Alfaro to Panama
  • Teddy Roosevelt
  • A hat

But that’s not the story I will tell now.
Panama hats in Cuenca, Ecuador
Yesterday, Carrie and I went for a little walk from the Kookaburra Café (where we’ve been staying here in Cuenca).

We wanted to visit the museum and workshop of Hormero P Ortega & Hijos, one of the most famous Panama hat makers in Ecuador.
Hormero P Ortega Panama hats in Cuenca, Ecuador
After about 40 minutes of walking, we arrived at Hormero P Ortega & Hijos (Hormero P Ortega and sons), to have the man at the gate tell us that the workshop is closed on Saturdays.

Lots of places are closed for some or most of the day on Saturdays/Sundays in Cuenca.

That was a bit disappointing, but at that point we were close to Cuenca’s Terminal Terrestre (where the buses leave from), so we went to check out the best options for leaving Cuenca on Tuesday night or Wednesday.

From there, we took a $4 taxi to Turi, which is a town and church on a hill above Cuenca, with a beautiful view of the whole city.
Turi view of Cuenca, Ecuador
We wanted to eat lunch up there… we assumed there would be lots of restaurants with the beautiful view (and had been told as much by a few people). We found one restaurant with a great view, but it appeared to be some kind of dinner theater place, and it was closed.

So we took a taxi back to the city, wandered around a bit, and on our wandering back to the Kookaburra Café, we ran into this place just 2 blocks away from our hotel.
Hormero P Ortega Panama hats in Cuenca, Ecuador
Rafael Paredes S. y Hijos, Panama Hat makers since 1957

Wanting to do the appropriately touristy thing and learn how Panama hats are made, we entered the exhibits.

Did you know that Panama Hats are made out of one single reed that is shredded, braided, pressed, and steamed into the shape of the hat? That was really interesting to see.

Rafael Paredes S. y Hijos apparently is also the hat maker of choice for many of the contestants in the Miss Universe contest. Their hats have also been featured in advertisements (on beautiful women who wear attractive hats on posters in order to get men to buy beer, and women to buy hats).

We played around trying on different hats, with no real intention of buying them for ourselves.

But then, I found a Panama hat that I liked.

Carrie said it looked *really* good on me.

Finding a hat I like is one thing, but having my wife say it looks *really* good on me kind of makes it a done deal.

One problem – the hat I selected was too small.

Turns out that in Ecuadorian Panama hat sizes, my head is not an XL.

It’s not even a XXL.

My head is HUGE.

I’ve known that for some time, but Rafael Paredes S. y Hijos is specially making, just for me, a XXXL (that’s three X’s) Panama hat in the colors of my choosing.

The women working there in the shop thought it was quite funny that I had such a “gran cabeza”.

(They actually said “cabeza grande” (giant head), but I preferred to say “gran cabeza” (which is more like “grand head”). It sounds more like a compliment – at least to me.)

To have a hat specially made to fit my head, in the colors of my choosing, costs $25.

It takes just 2 days to have one made, so I’ll be returning tomorrow to pick it up.

Carrie’s head is between a medium and a large, but they had a large in these fun colors, which looked great on her, so she got the large.

When you buy a Panama hat at Rafael Paredes S. y Hijos, they also give you a carrying bag for your Panama hat at no additional charge. This will be great for us for as much as we will be on the road in the next 4 weeks.
Rafael Paredes S. y Hijos Panama hats in Cuenca, Ecuador

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