“Eating and sleeping are the only activities that should be allowed to interrupt a man’s enjoyment of his cigar.” – Mark Twain
What Makes a Cigar a Cuban?
Quite simply, the difference between a Cuban cigar and a non-Cuban cigar is where the product was grown. If considered in wine terms, a Chardonnay grape could be grown in New Zealand, California, or France. All the wines would be Chardonnay, but the growing region would add a distinct flavor. Similarly, high-quality cigar tobacco can be produced in many locations—but a Cuban cigar is only created from Cuban tobacco.
Cuban cigars are widely considered the finest in the world. The cigars are known for quality and craftsmanship, and also their rarity in the United States. The best Cuban cigars are those produced in government-owned factories. These factories only use the highest quality tobacco, and have strict process and controls. Outside vendors may sell cigars but these are generally considered fakes due to lack of quality control.
Tobacco is grown across Cuba, but different areas produce different grades of product. The Vuelta Abajo is the tobacco region in the extreme western part of the island, and is considered the “finest cigar tobacco-growing land in the world”. Even in this top producing area, less than a quarter of the product is considered Vegas Finas de Primera, the high status required by the state-run Habanos.
Popularity of Cuban Cigars
Cuban cigars have long been considered both excellent quality, and also difficult to obtain. Seen as a symbol of wealth and power worldwide, the rich and famous have long been attracted to these fantastic smokes. Prices range from $8-$80 and special edition releases can sell for up to $50,000. Some of the most popular styles include:
- Romeo Y Julieta
- H. Upmann
Havana is the home of cigar factories. Cuban cigars are not only sourced differently but made in distinctly different ways than their other worldwide counterparts. Instead of dividing the work into an assembly line, a single worker creates each hand-rolled cigar. Cigar-makers called torcedores also use signature processes including a two-leaf binding and avoiding Temsco or Lieberman bunching devices.
Tours typically cost $5-$10 and take 30-45 minutes. The average tour will offer little explanation but takes you through the creation process from rolling to quality control and grading. If you’d like to see the process yourself, try visiting one of the two main factories.
H. Upmann/Romeo Y Julieta
Romeo Y Julieta is currently being operated as the H. Upmann factory, so this can get a little confusing. H. Upmann moved into the building and began crafting cigars, including H. Upmann’s entire line, Montecristos, and Romeo y Julietas. It is open from 9am-1pm. Admission is $10 CUC.
This cigarette factory turned cigar factory is conveniently located next to the Estadio Latinoamericano, Cuba’s largest baseball stadium. Lacking the architecture of some of the older factories, this place is all business with a highly industrial look and feel. The factory is home to cigars including Cuaba, Hoyo de Monterrey, Punch, San Cristobal de la Habana, Flor de Cano, and Por Larranaga. It’s open Monday-Friday, 9-11am and 1-3pm. Admission is $10 CUC.
Stores and Street Vendors
State-run stores, called Casa del Habano, all sell certified authentic cigars at the same prices. Prices for smoking accessories like humidors can vary, though. Former Casa del Habanos that have been sold to private owners are called Casa del Tobaco or Tienda del Habano. Consider these like mom and pop convenience stores. Prices and selections vary more, but so does the opportunity to find rare or limited merchandise.
Some recommendations for stores include (info accurate as of May 2015):
- Salon Cuba in Hotel Iberostar Parque Central, Calle Neptuno e/ Paseo del Prado y Zulueta, Old Havana. This luxury hotel has a cigar lounge and shop located inside.
- Casa Del Ron y Tabaco, Calle Obispo y Calle Bernaza, Old Havana. Located above El Floridita. Here you can find cigars as well as the specialty rum selections.
- La Casa del Habano, 5th y 16, 5ta y 16 / 5ta Avenida y Calle 16, Miramar. The Miramar state store is one of the country’s finest. Called Quinta Avenida, this is the Beverly Hills of cigar shops. This upscale neighborhood vendor is the only cigar store in Havana with a full-service restaurant.
- Casa del Tabaco La Escogida, Hotel Comodoro, Avenida 3 y Calle 84, Playa. This private location is smaller but can have an interesting selection.
- El Aljibe Tienda de Tabaco, Avenida 7 y Calle 24, Miramar. This cigar shop is attached to a wonderful restaurant. You can purchase your cigar and smoke it with your meal.
Street vendors are everywhere but are often selling high-quality forgeries and fakes. We recommend you avoid buying cigars on the street.
What about the Embargo?
Americans can legally bring back $100 worth of alcohol and tobacco per trip for personal use. You can also enjoy as much as you want onsite. However, ordering products online is still prohibited.
Smoking around Town
Unlike American smoke shops, all Casa del Habanos have a bar seating area where you can enjoy your purchase on site. Many hotels and private stores will also have onsite smoking locations. Some restaurants allow smoking, but many have become smoke-free. Cigar smoking is also permitted in designated outdoor sections on the Adonia.
If you are visiting in late February or early March, you can take advantage of the Festival Habano. The festival is held in Havana and celebrates every aspect of the cigar. The festival includes not only music, food, and dancing—but also factory and plantation tours, new product launches, Habano Sommelier contests and more. While it’s not specified anywhere, you can be sure that this event catered to cigar smokers will provide plenty of opportunities to enjoy a good smoke.
Subscribe to Fathom News
Hear all about the new experiences we are creating; small ship cruising, connecting alongside locals and deep immersion into the culture of the Dominican Republic and Cuba. Stay up to the minute with our latest adventures, sales and promotions. Subscribe today!