If you’re looking for the perfect souvenir to commemorate your trip to Panama, consider a Sombrero Pintao, or “painted hat.” Though not technically painted, the traditional Panamanian hat features stripes created by boiling the leaves of the Chisná plant together with the natural reed, acorn or pita fibers. The hats are then divided into different styles according to the “Pintas,” or markings of the particular hat.
In the town of La Pintada, artisans grow the Junco, Bellota or Pinta plants and braid the fibers that are used to make them. The entire process is carried out manually, using techniques handed down from generation to generation, and comprises a legendary tradition that has been recognized by UNESCO as an example of Intangible Cultural Heritage.
These traditional black and white hats are not to be confused with the popular “Panama Hat,” which actually originated in Ecuador. Instead, the Sombrero Pintao is the quintessential hat of Panama, and transcends lines of gender, location and cultural background. Most Panamanians have two Sombrero Pintaos—one for everyday use, and one for special occasions. The fineness of the hats is measured by the number of “turns,” or rows that are woven, with simpler hats made with 15 or fewer turns, and more intricate hats made with 16 to 24 turns. You can pick one up in many areas throughout the country for between $40-$300 USD, depending on the amount of turns you choose.