Woven into the very fabric of Cuban life and tradition is the age-old art of cigar making (and smoking, if you’re that way inclined). Although other places have tried to rival the high standards of the Cuban cigar, they somehow fall short, making the city of Havana a pilgrimage site for any cigar aficionado. Here are some great tips on where to seek out the best cigars in the Cuban capital, and the places and people that can impart expert knowledge along the way.
A pinnacle of the Cuban cigar industry is Partagas, one of the oldest cigar factories in Cuba. Famed for its deep flavoured tobacco, a trip to Havana is not complete without taking a tour around this producer’s aging factory walls. Despite modern production being moved to an alternative factory nearby, visitors can still take full advantage of the extensive knowledge of local tour guides, many of which are employees, to find out about the famous cigar hand rolling techniques, passed down through the generations.
The Tobacco Museum, or Snuff/Cigar Museum as it’s sometimes referred to, gives a comprehensive historical overview of Cuba’s most lucrative trading industry. Housed within a quaint 18th century building on 120 Calle Mercaderes, visitors can explore the numerous exhibits and collections that chart the industry’s early beginnings and evolution on the island. There’s also a small smoking lounge area where you can buy and ‘taste’ a selection of local cigars.
There are a few vital things to remember when buying cigars in Havana in order to avoid getting ripped off. Do your research on what brand authenticity hallmarks to look out for. Being able to identify correct holograms, serial numbers and packaging goes a long way. And if a deal sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
Ensure you don’t get lumbered with fakes by seeking out one of the cosy La Casa del Habanos dotted across the capital. In these specialist stores you’ll have expertly trained assistants at your beck and call, whose extensive knowledge will bring you up to speed on the finest hand rolled cigars Cuba can offer.
La Casa del Habano Fabrica de Partagas, housed within the grounds of the old factory, has long been established as a popular stop off for tourists on the tobacco trail, and as a result, it does get busy. But it’s still worth visiting this 20 year-old store, simply to soak up the atmosphere. La Casa del Habano in Miramar, situated on 5th Ave, (Calle 5ta No. 1407, Esquina 16) was the first high-end smoking saloon in Cuba when it opened its doors in 1990. Since then it has become a popular haunt for ardent cigar fans who descend on the city each year. Not far away is another great spot located a stone’s throw from the harbour. Housed within the cigar-themed hotel Conde Villanueva is La Casa del Habano Villanueva. Their resident Torcedor (cigar roller) is a fountain of knowledge and will help you choose from a wide range of Habanos to try in the comfortable yet classic smoking lounge.
The annual Habanos Festival is a key event in any serious cigar aficionado’s calendar. This year’s festival, which took place in February, saw an array of events and excursions — from cigar rolling master classes, tastings and gastronomic pairings to niche events such as the Habanosommelier International Contest and trips to tobacco plantations in Vuelta Abajo’s Pinar del Río —widely considered as the best region in Cuba for growing tobacco.
Header image: Cuban man smoking a cigar © Les Haines/Flickr
Are you a cigar connoisseur? Have you tried cigars in Havana? If so share your recommendations in the comments section below.
Written by Chantelle Symester
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About the author: ChantelleChantelle Symester
Chantelle Symester is a writer and editor based in London. When she’s not chained to her laptop working she can be found hopping on a plane to far flung places across the globe. Trips so far include adventures to Mexico, South America and North Africa and she now has her heart set on discovering the East. You can find her @csymester