Homero Ortega: Hats and more
Naturally the Panama hat factory of Homero Ortega and Sons has a shop, and naturally our tour of the factory ended there. But I have to say that there was minimal “hard sell”. We were persuaded to try on a few hats (and I at least was happy to do so, as some were gorgeous!) but no one forced the issue when we said we didn’t want to buy. Had we wanted to do so, the price range was considerable – from $25 for the simplest men’s ones, made from the coarsest straw, up to around $1,000 for a couple of special ones displayed in locked glass cabinets. Wilson explained that, sadly, making these ultra-fine hats is a dying art, with only a handful of people known to be producing them. They sell through agents, and even the factory owners don’t know where these skilled workers live, or anything about them. It is assumed though that they are by now fairly old, and that when they die there will be no more hats of this quality, so these are usually bought as an investment. Not an investment we chose to make however!
What to buy: In a room that led off the hat shop was another shop, selling a good range of high-quality souvenirs including Tigua paintings, jewellery, organic coffee and chocolate and more. Here we did spend some money, buying a small ceramic tile with a picture of a blue footed booby that caught Chris’s eye (in anticipation of seeing the birds very soon in the flesh) and a packet of my favourite chocolate-covered coffee beans so that I could get my caffeine fix “on the move”. The tile was $10 and the beans about $3 I believe.
Then it was on to our next stop with Wilson, the Mirador de Turi
Arte con Sabor a cafe: best combination for coffee and shopping
A wonderfully decorated place where you can have a cup of coffe in a very artistic environment with excellent taste. All the items seem really unique, and beautiful in their imaginative simplicity. I almost liked everything! The prices are very good and I think even if you just go for coffee, you will finally give in and buy something. There are also many little inexpensive things which make a nice gift. Bags, decoration ..delights, paintings, jewelry of good quality silver made by the best ecuadorian designers, and many tasteful items for as cheap as 2$-5$. There is also a permanent exhibition and sale of a famous local painter.
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- Arts and Culture
Montecristi not Panama!
What to buy: Cuenca is famous for Panama Hats and beautiful and expertly crafted hats can be picked up relatively cheaply in the city. However, don’t be surprised to receive indignant glares from locals who overhear you calling these famous hats ‘Panamas’. To be fair, you can see why when you look at a map of the Americas and observe that Panama is nowhere near Ecuador! In truth the ‘Panama’ hat is actually a ‘sombrero de paja toquilla’ or even more technically a ‘Montecristi’ and although associated with a certain Central American country, Cuenca is where this hat was, and still is, made using traditional Ecuadorian techniques. The only better place to purchase a Montecristi is, unsurprisingly, the town of Montecristi on the Ecuadorian coast.
Museo Taller de Sombrero: Panama hats are Ecuadorian...!
Panama hats are made of “paha toquilla”, which is the toquilla straw plant growing in the north coast of Ecuador. So their origin is Ecuadorian but they took the name because they were first shipped in Panama, before being sold to the markets of Asia, and Europe.
Their quality depends on the number of weaves per square inch and the quality of the weave. The more densely woven it is the more expensive. But the quality of the weave counts, too. They often say that a good panama hat can hold water and not lose its shape even if you fold it and roll it. It also should feel smooth and soft when you touch it. There are many degrees of quality even going up to thousands of dollars. But you can get a decent one for as little as 20$US. The Museo Taller de Sombrero is in Calle Larga where you can find a wide variety of quality, colors and designs, although the original design is only one. The history and the procedure of the hat manufacturing is explained and Theodore Roosevelt is said to have helped it to become popular when he wore it during his visit to the Panama Canal. Since then millions of heads have enjoyed its shade.
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Artes J . G - CUENCA: exclusive gifts..
In Cuenca you will surely spend one morning at least strolling down Calle Larga. Just next to the museum of the Aboriginal Cultures, there is a small but very interesting shop with a treasure of beautiful items. There are necklaces, earrings, rings, bracelets. The owner is the artist and designer of the jewelry and most of the decorative pieces made of gold and silver, beautiful semi-precious stones, bone, clay, tagua ( a kind of coconut) and coral - also on black coral which is very rare. The designs are exclusive and very imaginative.
There are artifacts and antiquities. The prices are very good and you won't have to negotiate.
He also repairs watches. It's the perfect place to get special gifts for your friends and family.
Above the originally shaped door you will see the artist's initial J. G which stands for Jorge Gonzales
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Artes J.G. Al lado del Museo de Culturas Aboriginas un tresor de joyas de disenos exclusivos. Collares, anillos, manillas, gargantillas, aretes en coco, coral, tagua, oro y plata, y piedras semipreciosas. Artesanias, antiquedades. Todo en buenos precios. Ademas arreglo de relojes. El disenador es Jorge Gonzales. El mejor lugar para regalos especiales!
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Plaza Rotary: a real authentic local market
One of the great joys of South American travel are the local markets. Whether you are shopping or just looking at crafts, produce, or snacks it is a sensory assault you’ll not soon forget. Cuenca has a great local market at Rotary Plaza. Its forte is produce with vendors setting up makeshift stands outside and more established venues in the interior. There are also food and drink vendors so it makes for a cheap, authentic place for lunch. It closes down early and it’s not the safest place to walk around at night. We met some fellow travelers that were staying in the area and did not have any problems but like us they weren’t generally out at night and got from point A to B as quickly as possible.
What to buy: Great cheap lunches and fruit drinks along with produce are the real finds in this very authentic local market.
- Food and Dining
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All Over the City: Street Markets
Evrywhere you go in Cuenca, you will run into street markets selling all manner of things. Plenty of local crafts are available, and you can find most anything else you need for your travels as well. Bargaining is expected.
What to pay: Be sure to bargain. At first offer half of the asking price, then try to settle for something in between. The more items you buy from a particular merchant should bring you a bigger discount
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Centro Municipal Artesanal CEMUART: Artesanias in Cuenca
If you like to do all your souvenir shopping boom-boom in one hour flat, this is the place for you. Arranged around two courtyards, and on two levels, CEMUART is a co-op of craftspeople. You will find Tagua carvings, lots of textiles, leather, pottery...
Another good place for some last minute shopping (open late) is the Galeria El Tucán. It looks more upscale than the CEMUART co-op, but the prices are the same (see third photo). The Galeria is situated Antonio Borrero 7-35, near the corner of presidente Córdova.
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ABC Libreria: Used books English
The ABC bookstore has a large, well organized, collection of used books in English. The prices of the books on the shelves are clearly indicated. The owner, Carol, is very knowledgable about the books and takes great pride in the organization of them. The selection of language translation dictionaries includes English/Spanish, German/Spanish, French/Spanish, Italian/Spanish, and Portuguese/Spanish. There is also a good selection Spanish language materials.
What to buy: Sell your Ecuador travel book before you depart and purchase something to read on the airplane going home. The ABC bookstore will purchase any used book for $US 2.00.
What to pay: Typical January 2007 examples: Dick Francis @ $US 4.50, Tom Clancy @ $US 7.00.
Cemuart, Centro Municipal Artesanal: Handicraft Heaven
The Cemuart is a collection of 106 stalls operated by local artesans. There is a wide selection of goods, and prices appear to be reasonable. (I paid $US 5.00 for a funky panama baseball cap). All of the goods are made in Ecuador, whereas one is not sure about the origin of tourist goods in the Plaza San Francisco.
What to buy: Straw goods - baskets, hats, etc., ceramics, wood carving, blacksmith work, and needle work.
Casa de Deportiva Ortega: My favorite souvenir shirt store in Cuenca!
In Cuenca, students have to wear uniforms to school. This store has the biggest variety of school sports uniform from grade school to the local University of Cuenca. Students and their parents shop here. The store also has uniforms for the local Cuenca soccer/football team. The quality of the uniform is top-notched (a lot better than those found in the open-market). The uniforms are also very unique so they're a real conversation piece when you return home. I bought a real nice shirt of the local Cuenca soccer/football team without all the sponsor logos so I don't look like a walking billboard.
What to buy: There is such a variety here. Unfortunately, most Ecuadorians are small. The biggest size is usually a men's medium or size 40 (chest). I really like my Cuenca soccer/football team shirt and a shirt from the University of Cuenca.
What to pay: US$10 for the most expensive shirt.
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Barranco - naturalmente clasicos: Buy a Panama hat in Cuenca
Friendly, nice, museum included...
And they can send the hats all over the world!
What to buy: For sure, buy a panama hat. There are all prices and qualities, starts at 10 Dollars, but it`s possible to buy a superfino from Montecristi here, too...but for much more money :-)
What to pay: 10-300 Dollars
Barranco: The real panama hat!!
Very nice shop where you can buy the real super-fino panama hat, as well as less pricey hats, for men and women. They finish the hats themselves and you can choose your hat and the finishing.
The shopkeepers are nice, friendly and very helpful. They may prepare your hats for the flight (even if you did not buy them at the shop but in this case, do not forget the tip).
There's a small museum too.
What to buy: All the shop!
Taller de sombreros Angel Zhunio: Panama Hats
Small shop in the center of Cuenca more famous for its traditional hats than for panamas. However, it really worth a visit to see the owner refurbish the hats or ear his opinion on a hat.
What to buy: A traditional hat... or just have a look.
Any one of the hat shops and factories in Cuenca: You gotta buy a hat
Ask at your hotel desk. There are several hat shops and factories at which you could shop. You might want to take a little tour to see how the hats are made. Very interesting.
What to buy: The straw "Panama-style" hat of your dreams. Customize as you choose with silk or color.
What to pay: $35-50 US. (The US dollar is the coin of the realm in Ecuador)
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