Cuenca and the Southern Highlands Feature

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Panama Hats Don't Come from Panama

Blame it on Teddy Roosevelt, but Ecuador's signature souvenir bears another country's name. Among Ecuador's most important products is the Panama hat, whose name sticks in the collective craw of proud Ecuadorans. These finely made straw hats—also known as toquillas, from the type of straw used to weave them—were named for the country to which they were first exported en masse. President Roosevelt wore one when he toured the Panama Canal, as had many of the workers who constructed the canal, so the hats became forever associated with that Central American country.

The first hats were made by hand in the coastal towns of Jipijapa and Montecristi, and served a dual purpose: their brims protected against the tropical sun, and their tight weave created a container that could be used to carry water. The exceptionally fine superfino can take up to eight months to make. Their weave is so tight that they can be rolled up and then expanded with nary a crease evident. Queen Elizabeth and Jack Nicholson are but two of the hat's many celebrity fans.

Today the hats are most associated with the city of Cuenca, but plenty of places around the country sell them. These days quality Panama hats proudly bear the label "genuine panama hat made in ecuador".

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