Cuba begins to get quiet in May. The onslaught of snowbirds from Europe and Canada who flock here during the winter months in the northern hemisphere begins to slow down, and the weather begins to turn from pleasantly warm to downright hot. Thick, gray clouds climb higher in the sky during the afternoon, often releasing a cooling rain. The tourists might not be here in droves, but, as always, this is a great time to come to Havana to smoke cigars.
Last night I dropped in on one of New York City's grandest, most storied bars, the King Cole Bar at the St. Regis Hotel. Back in 1932, the bar received its signature item, a 30-foot-wide, eight-foot-tall mural painted by Maxfield Parrish depicting the merry old soul himself, surrounded by jesters and his court. If you've never been, you should go.
My trip to Nicaragua last week was short and sweet. I was there for the Nicaraguan Cigar Festival and file a story for Cigar Aficionado (you'll read more about that soon). You saw my visits to tobacco fields, but I also took the time to visit two very different cigar factories in Estelí, the town in northwestern Nicaragua where most of the country's cigars are made.
Daybreak came all too soon Thursday morning in Estelí, Nicaragua. It had been a late night at the Nicaraguan Cigar Festival—or early morning, since I didn't hit the sack until 2:30 a.m.—and the cacophony of cigarmakers coming to work roused me out of bed before 7 a.m. The workday begins early in Nicaragua, and this is no place for a person to sleep in.
The blast of sultry, tropical air hit me as I walked off the American Airlines jet in Managua, the capital of Nicaragua. I was a bit bleary eyed—on Tuesday night Cigar Aficionado held its Night to Remember charity dinner, which meant only two hours of sleep for me to make my 6 a.m. flight—but a smile came to my face when I felt the heat. I'm happy to be back in Nicaragua.
Christian Eiroa, president of Camacho Cigars, dropped by the Cigar Aficionado office on Friday. I've known Christian for years, but his visits up this way are few and far between. It had been a while since I had seen him in Manhattan.
I was standing outside of the Palacio del Conventiones, the Havana Convention Center, with Marvin Shanken and Gordon Mott, when a man walked up to us. I shook his hand and said my name.
"I've met you before," he said, and it was then that I recognized him. "You're Valerio, from the La Casa del Habano in the Cayman Islands," I said. We had last shook hands 11 years ago when we met inside Cuba's Partagas Factory. Valerio Cornale's memory is solid indeed. "You collect humidors," I said.
Thursday was a busy one for team Cigar Aficionado in Havana. After a smoky breakfast, Marvin Shanken, Gordon Mott and I headed out to Cuba´s premier cigar factory, El Laguito (You can read all about that part of the day in Gordon Mott's blog) I noticed they had some of the Cohiba 1966 Edicion Limitadas at the factory, but these were only made here for the festival. It's not likely that the cigars will be rolled here when they go into actual production much later in the year.
Wednesday night at the Habanos Festival was all about new cigars. I puffed a trio of new smokes that are heading to cigar shops soon during a festive dinner held in the Havana suburb of Miramar. And while top billing for the night went to the H. Upmann brand, the cigar that stole the show was a new Cohiba.
Friday morning in Santiago, Dominican Republic, I walked into the spacious (and annoyingly non-smoking) lobby of the Gran Almirante Hotel, laptop in hand. As I sat down to write, I watched groups of those gathered here for the ProCigar Festival head out into the sunshine with golf clubs or beach gear. Many were heading over the mountains to Puerto Plata for some R&R. But for me (and for many others) the cigar tours continued.
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