What To Buy In Ecuador, Part I

Oh me oh my, the goods you can buy in Ecuador are unbelievable.  I wanted to buy more things there  than I have on any of my other travels.  I guess things made by hand – at very good prices – are very hard to resist.  Today I thought I’d share with you some of the items I fell in love with down there.  
First off, 

Panama hats
Now, surprisingly, Panama hats are not from Panama – they originate from Ecuador!  Isn’t that a shame that they’ve lost out on some marketing?  Craftsmen in Ecuador began making the hats in the 17th century and they became so popular for their sun protection and light weight that all the workers building the Panama Canal started wearing the hats.  Also, the hats had to pass through Panama before sailing to their destinations in Asia, Europe, and the rest of the Americas.  And so, the hat became known as the Panama hat. 
There are a couple of old school hat makers in Ecuador who are amazing.  They have shops where you can see people weaving the hats by hand and shaping them.  Our favorite shop, Homero Ortega & Hijos, was in Cuenca, near the bus terminal.  The hats start at $25 and the service was exceptional.  All the workers, including those who would fit your hat, wore white coats.  They would go into the back to have the hat adjusted or steamed to make sure the hat fit you perfectly.  They also would customize the band of color and even give you a few different colors that you could interchange.  Overall, it was such a fun hat shopping experience.

Leather Goods.
There were TONS of leather makers in Ecuador.  In fact, there was an entire town (Cotacachi) that specialized in leather.  They even have the only high school in the country that specializes in leather making.  We found this shop on “Leather Street” and this man had worked in the shop since he was 14 years old!  In the week that I was there, he made me a bag by hand.  Each day when we walked by, he would invite us in to show us the progress on the bag.  So, so fun.  You can also give them your own designs and they will make something custom for you.  Very tempting, for sure.

He was conditioning the leather with margarine and he suggested that I do the same to keep the leather in good shape. 
There are also tons of leather belts available.  Often times there is a sewing machine in the shop.

The trims there are ridiculous.  I couldn’t believe the colors and patterns.  The indigenous women wear these as belts, which I loved.  
Here a woman was outfitting me in a traditional skirt and belt.  Little girls were walking by the shop and giggling.  So cute.  Her son was her assistant in the shop.

Tablecloths and Hammocks.

Some towns specialize in weaving, so there are amazing woven textiles.  Tablecloths and hammocks seemed especially popular. (Though those are two things I actually can’t use in NYC – no kitchen table here and no back yard with trees.  Maybe someday.)

Ecuador is the best place to buy a poncho – especially in Otavalo.  The selection is amazing and the quality is good, too.  Most ponchos are made of wool or alpaca (so soft!).  As I was deciding which one to buy, Danny took a picture of it for me so I could see it, as there usually wasn’t a mirror. 
Do you see that sweet little girl (below) that made it into the photo?  🙂
I bought this poncho, below.  The woman said that her husband was a weaver and made it!

I looooved dolls as a little girl.  And I guess I still do.  haha.  These can be found at Otavalo Market.

I have a Part II coming.  Hope you don’t mind getting to know Ecuador a bit as we do the same.

And, wishing you all a merry week before Christmas!!!
We are feeling the magic here in Brooklyn and loving every second of it.  We can thank our dear friends for that.


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  1. Anonymous December 19, 2013 at 9:57 pm - Reply

    Was the language a barrier there? I'm not sure if one of you speak Spanish. If someone went down who couldn't speak the language, could they get by? DO many speak English?

    • Anonymous December 19, 2013 at 9:57 pm - Reply

      Also, it all looks amazing, and I want to go now! Hence why I'm asking about the language!

    • mara December 21, 2013 at 1:35 am - Reply

      Hello! So…Danny speaks Spanish very, very well which was soooo helpful as most Ecuadorians do not speak English. I am not yet able to communicate in Spanish and if I wasn't there with Danny, I most certainly would have needed to rely on a translator app or phrase book. Luckily I think most Ecuadorians would try to be as helpful as they could to someone trying to communicate. And also – in the towns and cities we visited, there were usually tour offices with employees who speak English.

  2. Garren and Larissa Allred December 20, 2013 at 4:39 pm - Reply

    Ecuador has always been on my list of "Must Travel to" places. After reading your posts its made its way to number 2! ( Just under Thailand) This place looks absolutely beautiful and so rich with culture. Thank you for sharing your travels with us!

  3. Lauren December 20, 2013 at 6:39 pm - Reply

    I have just started working with leather and find the process fascinating- so much fun to see the leather goods that are available there and that you got to see your bag in progress!

  4. Holly Olsen January 6, 2014 at 6:16 pm - Reply

    This is all so interesting! Especially about the hats. Now I know they originated in Ecuador 🙂

  5. Anonymous December 1, 2016 at 2:01 pm - Reply

    Is there a good place to buy quality yarn, wool or alpaca?

    • mara December 4, 2016 at 4:58 pm - Reply

      Hi – not sure about the yarn. I have seen a FEW items here being made with soft alpaca or wool. But it seems really rare. A lot of the yarn used here is very cheap. I've spoken to a knitter from Europe (who lives here) and she imports all her yarn from the states. I've heard that Peru is a better place for the alpaca – though even then, the best yarns are sent to the states or Europe and not purchased by the locals. I've been told most people here in South America don't buy the good quality yarns due to cost – so often it's not even available (even if the yarn is produced in the country).

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