An American Aficionados Guide to Cuba
Cuba is a Central American destination next-to-sacred in minds of cigar lovers everywhere.
This is the Mecca of premium cigar blend and variety. It makes it a must-see destination for your next vacation.
You have to understand how fragile the “sacred” part of Cuba is. This is a country that is wonderful but also difficult for an American to travel to without a guide book to follow. You want to adjust to the culture shock quickly so you can explore, enjoy cigars, and have the experience of a lifetime.
This guide was made expressly for the American aficionado. Anyone can enjoy it, but especially Americans will learn from the destination tips and facts we found on cigar heritage.
History of cigars in the country
The history of tobacco enjoyment in South America has no starting date label. Tobacco has been a staple crop of the Americas since the ancient times.
The Spanish opened the first official cigar factory in the late 16th century. This was the milestone that marked the beginning of Cuba’s unique part of cigar history. The conservation of the plentiful landscape has served for centuries as part of cigar craft legacy. It’s in the soil. The compounds of Cuban soil make for nature’s vitamin table. It is the “superfood” of tobacco plants.
The constantly fair climate helps this superfood soil to yield the best crops. The special ingredients used in special brands benefit too. Only a Cuban cigar can taste like a Cuban because it has the country’s essence mixed in with its blend.
You can view a world-history of Cuban cigar fame here. We also have a complete crash course to the history of Cuban cigars per brand.
Vinales-Pine del Rio province
If you want to see where the Cuban cigars originate, leaf by leaf, you will need to venture into Pinar del Rio province. This is the center of Cuba where the soil harnasses the earth’s richest nutrients that eventually become part of the Cuban blend manifesto.
can do that on horseback in Vinales. This is a World Heritage site replete with all the natural conservancy that makes Cuba a thing of wonder.
Some of the farms will allow you to tour them directly. Here, you can walk among the plantation itself to observe the plants in their rawest form. Then, you can go to the drying houses, called secaderos, to see how the tobacco is fired and seasoned.
In this valley, watch the master cigar rollers in their craft. There are available tours where the cigar roller will walk you through the step by step process. Many times, a feel of the culture, the country, and the craft directly comes through the tobacco farmer’s table.
Note on cigar purchasing on-site
Cubans must legally sell 90% of the cigars they handcraft to the government. This plus a long and drawn out embargo makes it expensive for Americans to buy at-source Cuban cigars. You will be charged higher rates, with the cheapest ones being equivalent to $25. You can only buy small quantities, usually packages in a cannister bundle humidor. The source in this video was charged 50 dollars for a container that was rolled in pine bark.
A must-see feature of Vinales
In the true spirit of a cigar aficionado, you will want to tour the tobacco farms under the doming peaks. Take a moment to enjoy a cigar in the wild countryside of its origin. The Valle de Silencio_or Valley of Silence, in English_is a place of solace from Havana’s insomnia. Most travelers will skip the trek down into this reverent place. You would be missing out if you follow their example.
Now that you’ve had a chance to review the tobacco farms, it’s time to visit the factories. There is an old one that hosts tours in Holguin. The tour of the cigar factory itself is rumored to be brief, but visiting the city with a local guide is well worth the effort all the same. As of 2018, there was a local named Yuri that was given the highest recommendations as a local guide.
Baracoa had a cigar company in Canada named in its honor a few years ago. While it may have closed due to regulation disputes with the FDA, the legacy of Baracoa on cigar aficionados leaves a lasting impression. Baracoa is the oldest city of the island nation and the cradle of Cuban culture. Called Cuba’s First City, Baracoa is fixed between the mountains and the sea. Go to this place and you’ve gone back in time.
The Hidden Havana
Havana is immortal in the hearts of pop anthems and paradise seekers all over the world. If you visit Cuba, you must see Havana. Seeing it in style is another thing. There will be lots of tourist traps and attractions flashed in front of you. Find the hidden gems to bring the most meaning from your adventure in Cuba’s capital.
Visit Partagas factory while you’re there
In the heart of Havana is the classic Partagas factory. While you’re there finding hidden gems, take a moment for this classic destination. You can also view the shops and museums which has a highly varied humidor for on-site purchase. This source video will give you a look at the place’s aesthetic.
Safety tips for Americans in Paradise
Travel officials often say to blend with the locals as much as possible. As an American, you have many attributes that identify you quickly in foreign countries. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it will make it easier for potential tourist scammers to identify you.
“American” identifiers and toning them down
American identifiers are little traits that are American culture related. Some of these things are clothing choices. Flashy bling is often viewed as an “American” attribute. We caution against wearing or carrying too many valuables on your person when traveling abroad. There will be a higher risk of loss or theft. When possible, keep your belongings concealed in light-weight bags or backpacks. Observe the clothing styles you see other people wearing. You may like to purchase a similar style for your stay.
American smoking posture?
According to the CIA, Americans even have a unique way of smoking than other cultures. Americans hold their smokes between their index and middle finger and stand at a casual pose. In some countries, like England, for example, the smoking posture is noticeably different. UK natives typically pinch their smokes between their index finger and their thumb.
We’re not entirely sure if the Cubans have their own smoking posture, but they are bound to notice yours. If you want to blend in, observe other smokers. Emulate that if you notice anything different. Embrace the local color culture that you observe. Doing this, you will blend in more like a local and you will be able to tour areas with decreased unwanted attention.
Other things that are bound to draw you trouble are bling. Don’t flaunt accessories. Fancy watches, flashy phone cases, handbags, or other costume jewelry is a temptation for street thieves. The average Cuban makes a 20 dollar salary, after all.
Playing by the rules
Cuba has had some progress recently, but it’s still a communist country. Which means there is a regimen of rules you’ll have to know to safely access the cigar Mecca. This is a basic rundown of those rules:
- Taking pictures of the police is illegal.
- Use discretion with political topics.
- If you rent a casa particular be sure you understand the legal policies before arrangements.
- Some of the casas are reserved for Cubans only
- These have been labeled by an orange paint mark in many cases.
- Foreign-friendly casas have blue signs painted on their doors typically.
- Glass sharing is a custom in Cuba, and it’s considered a bit rude to refuse.
- Old customs consider spitting and blowing noses in public a bit rude. This may be an outdated cultural preference in some areas, but use a latrine to be safe.
- Don’t fall for local guide scams. Unless you solicit help yourself, be cautious of volunteer guides.
- The local currency values vary by about 25 fewer units from the one provided at the exchange office. If you pay with cash, use exact amounts when possible. You want to avoid being short-changed.
- Please tip generously. Cost of living is brutal here. Some hotel staff will accept gifts of soap or other things of a small convenience item nature as tips.
Cubans have boisterous personalities. They speak animated Spanish and revel in their Latin roots. Learn a little bit. It will help you find your way to places in more efficiently. Plus, it’s more immersive to speak the language. If you follow the roles, steer clear of the militarized maneuvers, and use foreign-access facilities to avoid run-ins with the complex legal system, you can enjoy your smokes in peace.
However, you explore Cuba you will have a monumental experience. Despite our cultured opinions, you can’t go wrong with what you try out here. Take in Cuba as more than a destination resort. Find the local small town feel and cigar culture even in the midst of the tourist hubs.
Again, be mindful of the local laws and customs. Don’t worry so much about your “American” showing. You will show your American spirit the whole time, no matter how you try to conceal it. That’s the beauty of this experience. For the first time in decades, now an American aficionado can go back to the birthplace of cigar legacy.