You probably know them as Panama hats, but the craft is really a product of Ecuador. The media labeled them “Panama” hats after President Theodore Roosevelt wore one when he toured the Panama Canal. But even his hat was made in Ecuador where the small town of Montecristi is home to some of the best traditional hat makers in the country.
When we arrived in Montecristi, near Manabi, we had a hard time finding any of those famous craftspeople who turn out hats worn by models, world leaders, celebrities (Harrison Ford, Michael Jordan, and Michelle Pfeiffer to name a few), and royalty (the Queen of Spain has one).
First, we headed out in search of one of the most famous hat makers, a man named Marcelo. We found his house/workshop, but there was no one inside, though we did see a few hats displayed in a glass case.
Across the street, we found Bertha Magdalena Pachay Mero at work on a hat in the doorway of her house. She graciously showed us her hats and explained the differences in materials and workmanship that account for the wide range of hat prices (from US$50 to many, many hundreds of dollars).
Bertha also told us there may be as few as 10 hat makers left in Montecristo, which explains why we had such a hard time finding them.
Here’s more about travel in Ecuador