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James Suckling

Cigars, Cigars Everywhere

Posted: Feb 17, 2009 9:17am ET
A lot of important people are talking about changes in travel restrictions between the United States and Cuba. I have even heard that some representatives from the states were here in Havana last week discussing the ramifications of Americans legally visiting the island with the Cuban government.

I already touched on this in an earlier blog on how it might be difficult at the beginning for the island to adapt to a huge influx of tourists from the states. I wonder where all of them would sleep or eat? As I have written before, there are only about 1,500 high quality rooms in Havana alone, and about a couple dozen acceptable restaurants. Forget about most other things for the independent traveler. However, I think this could all be upgraded very, very quickly— maybe in just a year or two.

Cigars are not going to be a problem, though. I predict a huge increase in premium cigar sales on the island, which currently is probably between 4 million to 6 million sticks a year in premium cigar shops. The increase could be double or triple that. This does not include the millions of fakes that are sold on the streets and would be even more popular when more tourists come here.

I get offered boxes all the time when I walk in La Habana. “Hey my friend,” one says in English. “Do you want cigar? Cigar my friend.”

I usually tell him in my bad Spanish that I don’t want his fake smokes.

"‘They are real. Come and see,” he says.

The other day I told one seller of cigars that I worked for Habanos S.A., the global distribution and marketing company of Cuban cigars, so that I didn’t need any of the cigars that he was selling. “So do I,” he says, showing me a Habanos work tag. I don’t know if it was real or not. But he was a real wise guy – cabron!

The selection in official cigar shops in La Habana is always excellent, and there is nothing better than just hanging out in one, having a smoke and checking out the cigars. Some cigar shops even offer a service of storing cigars. Probably the most picturesque is the shop in the Partagas Cigar Factory, but it is often packed with people from tour buses. So I go elsewhere.

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