Cuba On The Mind

Look around—Cuba is everywhere. On the television news. In the papers. On radio. The December announcement that the United States was moving closer to normalizing relations with its longtime adversary to the south has prompted a keen interest in Cuba.

But here at Cigar Aficionado Cuba is not just the latest thing. We have been there all along.

Just as the premium cigar industry was born in Cuba, the inspiration for this very magazine came from a visit to that tropical Caribbean island some 24 years ago. As it was then, it's still impossible to walk the cobbled streets of Old Havana without being drawn to the charm of the city and its people. Nor can you help but think about cigars. So we've made the pilgrimage time and time again. Cuba is where cigars as we know them came to be. Without the cigar masters who were born in Cuba (and, in many cases, left to create businesses in other countries) the cigar world today would be quite different indeed.

With the world's eyes on Cuba and with change in the wind we decided it was time to return. This time we went not only with our years of experience, but with fresh eyes. This issue represents our new and comprehensive guide to travel there. We'll show you how to go, where to eat, stay, drink, smoke and shop, and how to avoid the pitfalls that can befoul the traveller who hasn't been there before.

We have seen great change in Cuba over the past 24 years, none greater than what has happened on the dining scene. Two decades ago a trip to a Cuban restaurant meant spending time under the glare of harsh fluorescent lights, supping on uninspired simple fare and calling for extra beer to wash away the memories. Today you can get a wonderful meal at one of dozens of private restaurants, and a growing number even have a selection of wines.

Change is evident on the plate, and it abounds in the architecture. Cuba is still dominated by crumbling walls and chipped concrete begging for repair, but more and more buildings have gone through renovation, bringing a new look to the city. Havana is a city in transformation.

Above all, Cuba remains a cigar lover's paradise, teeming with upscale cigar shops. We'll tell you where to shop and what to buy. More than 40 cigar factories dot the island, four of them open to regular visitors. Hearing the buzz of a cigar factory, smelling the tobacco, watching the workers effortlessly turn wrinkled leaves into things of beauty, is a sight every cigar aficionado needs to see. Cigar-friendly bars and clubs are ubiquitous, and even while some smoking regulations have come to Cuba, virtually every restaurant will welcome your cigar in one way or another.

Even in transformation, some things persist. After more than 50 years the embargo is still in place, and for many American travellers Cuba is a destination that remains off limits. Nevertheless, change is in the air. Click to our report and see what the future has in store for the Cuba of tomorrow.