In the past, my knowledge and understanding of cigars was primarily based on, or rather swayed by, a famous 1970s British television advertisement for the cigar brand, Hamlet. Thanks to the brand’s convincing marketing propaganda, I (and no doubt many others) was led to believe that the cigar making process involved the rolling of the cigar on a young lady’s thigh, and that smoking a Hamlet would bring immense pleasure and happiness. Such was the level of my naivety and understanding. Now though it is a quite different matter, and all thanks to having taken part in two tours that touched on the subject of cigars.
For example, I now know that the Montecristo #2 currently comes in as number one on the Cuban Cigar charts. And that the Partagas Serie D is the number two. Apparently, despite not being as well known as the Cohiba or Montecristo, the Partagas Series D has a delicious woody finish and the robusto size is absolutely fantastic!
Such are the things one learns during a well guided shore excursion.
Partagas is one of the oldest makers of Cuban cigars with a history dating back over 160 years. I must say that since visiting the Partagas factory in Havana and following our amazing day out amongst the red earthed tobacco fields of the Viñales valley, I have since developed quite a layman’s interest in this hotly debated, popular post-dinner table topic.
But alongside the legitimate side of the cigar industry, there is also a lot of counterfeit merchandise ‘out there’ and you will need to keep your wits about you if you are to avoid falling for the convincing and very tempting sales patter of the street sellers. You will get ripped off. There is absolutely no question. I was amazed at the number of times we were approached by counterfeit cigar sellers. Especially at landmark tourist sites and whilst stepping in and out of the motor coach. They would appear from nowhere and swarm around.
Insider’s tip: A firm, but amiable ‘no gracias’ is enough to get the message across in a friendly, ‘thumbs up’ kind of way.
But again, please don’t allow yourself to be tempted to buy counterfeit cigars and only buy from a reputable licensed cigar vendor. You’ll only regret it otherwise.
In our quest to learn more about tobacco and cigars we took part in a fantastic full day tour out to the Viñales Valley. The valley has an area of 132 km2 (51 sq mi) and is located in the Sierra de los Órganos mountains (part of Guaniguanico range), in the Pinar del Río Province. Alongside the tour’s tobacco focus, it also includes some amazing scenery and interesting geological sights. Such as caves and the area’s distinctive ‘mogotes’ – small limestone hillocks.
This one gets a 10 out 10 for me. And despite it being a long tour (you’ll be well and truly knackered after this one, trust me!) it really was a spectacular full day out and we enjoyed it immensely.
However if you are a bit time shy but still want to experience a little of the country’s cigar culture, then a Havana city tour a is a good choice of tour for you, but do check to make sure that it includes a visit to the famous Partagas cigar factory. I say this even though I felt that the tour of the factory had a bit of a production line feel to it. But it was interesting too, in a weird peep show, voyeuristic kind of way. If I might explain. The tour takes you on a walk through the factory, where you peer through open windows to look at workers as they sit rolling cigars. Its a popular landmark and is included in most city tour line-ups and despite the limitations, I do feel it is interesting enough to warrant a look as it does offer a genuine glimpse into the world of Cuban hand rolled cigars.
Its also good fun to take a stroll around the Plaza de la Catedral (Cathedral Square) where you can take photos of the cigar ladies for a few pesos. There are a lot of characters to be seen swanning around in their finery and providing some great ‘people watching’ opportunities. Alongside the colourful and somewhat persistent cigar ladies, you might also come across mime artistes and musicians and oh, surprise surprise… here come those omni present counterfeit cigar sellers again!
All in all there are some cracking shore excursion opportunities to be had focusing on Cuba’s Cigar culture.
But having seen and experienced for myself quite how busy some of the sites and museums are, I would highly recommend booking these tours through your cruise line so as to be sure that you spend your valued time actually visiting the sites, rather than waste it standing in line and getting nowhere fast.
More Havana adventures coming soon!