Destinations, May 1997
Good-quality panamas are available in Quito, but for the best deals, head about 200 miles south to the highlands town of Cuenca, already an overnight stop for most people trekking the Inca Trail. Browse the many millinery shops lining the cobbled streets of the city center. Or see how the hats are made by visiting the Kurt Dorfzaun Company on Avenida Gil Ramirez Davalos, where about half a million are woven each year.
Before buying any panama, roll it into a cylinder. The tighter the roll, the finer the weave and the better the quality. A hat of medium-weight straw and medium-tight weave should cost $25-$60, depending on your haggling skills. You'll pay considerably more for one of the legendary panamas woven so fine it can be twirled up and slipped through a wedding ring.
If a trip to Ecuador seems a high price to pay for a hat, top-of-the-line panamas are available in the United States at J. J. Hat Center in New York City ($495-$1,500; 800-822-1911), the Montecristi Custom Hat Works in Santa Fe, New Mexico ($250-$10,000; 505-983-9598), and Paul's Hat Works in San Francisco ($250-$30,000; 415-221-5332). Of course, at these prices, a hat-buying spree to Ecuador starts to look like a bargain.