Let's start by getting some definitions out of the way!
In Javanese the word palapa means 'fruits of labor'. For that reason Palapa was chosen as the name of a series of satellites launched by Indonesia beginning in 1975.
In the Southern Regions of Africa palapa is a term of endearment between short Africans.
In North America
In Spanish a palapa is an open-sided dwelling with a thatched roof made of dried palm leaves.
Palapas are similar in many ways to a tiki hut. A palapa and a tiki hut are both made of dried palm leaves, also known as thatch.
There are however some key differences. The first is that a tiki hut is usually enclosed on the sides by walls of palm thatch, while the palapa has open sides. Another important distinction is that the tiki hut is usually designed with structural supports around the edges, while a palapa usually has its supports directly under the roof. The two most common palapa types are one-pole palapas and the two-pole palapa, although custom palapa design can be adapted to produce variations. Since palapas are frequently made with a single pole support and used for shade they can sometimes be confused with thatch umbrellas. What distinguishes a true palapa from a thatch umbrella, or “tiki umbrella.” is that a palapa is set is usually attached as a more permanent structure whereas a thatch umbrella is moveable. Also, while and umbrella usually folds up, a palapa is a much more rigid roof structure that does not fold up. Palapa kits can be purchased and arrive with the palapa in peices. Kits include instructions for assembly and all the need parts to put together your own palapa.
Palapas can be found in coastal areas of Mexico, especially in Baja California Mexico and the Gulf of California. In the United States these palapa structures have become popular in Sun Belt areas like Florida, and most especially Southern California and Arizona, where climates and temperatures are conducive to outdoor activities year-round.
Restaurants in Southern California have adopted palapas as a key element in the décor of their dining establishments, especially restaurants serving Baja style Mexican cuisine. The Rubio’s chain in Southern California is one example of a Baja restaurant with palapas featured on their dining patios and well used selectively in their interior decoration. La Palapa Restaurant in Maryland is another example of this theme, which the restaurant integrated to such and extant the term palapa even made it into their name. There is even a related restaurant also in Maryland called La Palapa Too, which points to the apparent success of this adaptation of the Mexican theme.
Palapa prices can range from the just under a thousand dollars into the multiple thousands of dollars depending on the size of the palapa desired. Custom palapa pricing can also vary widely.
The makuti palapa is a similar structure, with the key difference that instead of using palm thatch, the roof is covered with makuti thatch from South Africa.
One other variant is palapas made from African reed thatch. The African Reed thatch palapa is made of stiff bits of thatch that almost look like small pieces of bamboo. Some people have found that African Reed thatch is not too well suited for dry climates with strong sunlight pointing out that such climates can over time cause the reed thatch to become brittle. In coastal areas with high humidity this problem is not noticed.
The fact of the matter is that over the life of any palapa the reed, no matter what type, will deteriorate as all types of thatch are natural products made from plants. Every 4 to six years it will be necessary to replace worn pieces of thatch. This usually very simple to do, as the worn pieces of thatch can be removed from the supporting frame and the new pieces of thatch put in place to cover the palapa and make it just like new!
by Cameron Hatch
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