PHOTO BY SIMON URWIN
When you think of Panama, probably one of the first things that comes to mind is the Panama hat. Although it was made famous by President Theodore Roosevelt when he wore one while touring the Panama Canal construction site, the hat originated in Ecuador—as Panama’s most esteemed hatmaker will be quick to tell you. At 66 years old, Antenor Ubillús (pictured) has been producing hats for nearly 50 years, and his family has owned Sombrería Mario, now in Panama City’s El Chorrillo neighborhood, for three generations. Unlike at most touristy shops, Ubillús’s shelves aren’t endlessly stocked, as he prefers quality over quantity. “Making hats is more like an art form,” he says, one that involves hand-weaving toquilla palm fibers using tools and mahogany head mannequins that have been in his family for over 100 years. “It’s a very personal service.”
One of Ubillús’s hats would make a memorable—although, at up to $1,250, not inexpensive—keepsake for anyone visiting Panama this month for the 500th anniversary of its capital city’s founding. Celebrations culminate on August 15 (the day in 1519 when Panama City was established by Spaniard Pedro Arias de Ávila) with a parade in Lefevre Park and a concert featuring international dancers and musicians tipping their caps to the city’s history.