Photo/Angus McRitchie

The excitement is unavoidable. Despite more than 20 visits over the years, every time I arrive in Havana, I feel like I’m about to embark on a new adventure.

On the surface, nothing much changes. But that’s OK. I feel like I’m with an old friend after a long absence, and no time has passed. The hotel receptionists greet me with warm smiles and hugs. The bellboys haven’t changed. And soon after checking in it’s off to have a glass of rum and a cigar. 

I’m back at my computer, a beautiful Partagás Serie D No. 4 and a glass of Santiago 12-year-old rum under my belt. Is that a perfect way to kick off my week in Havana for the Festival de Habanos? Don’t hate me. I know it is. And, my little cigar and rum break was worth giving up the nap I thought I would catch before heading off for my traditional first night celebration in Havana—roast chicken and rice and beans at El Aljibe—with a group of my friends who live here most of the year.

The Festival de Habanos bring together everyone in the world of Cuban cigars, from around the world. In the Casa del Habano here in the Meliá Cohiba Hotel where I usually stay, I greeted the one of the main distributors for cigars in the Middle East. I also joined David Tourgeman, one of the biggest cigar shop owners in Mexico, my new home country. 

There’s always a lot of talk about what cigars will soon appear on the market. No Montecristos 1935s (yet) although there are rumors we’ll get some this week at the Festival events. And, of course, the Cohiba Talismans and Majestuosos, two of the iconic brands latest additions, are finding their way into shops, at least in Mexico.

But more than anything else, being here is about enjoying cigars, and the energy that marks Havana during Festival week. I’ll be attending the Festival’s main events—big cocktail receptions and dinners on three nights—and, participating in the conference’s seminars and tastings and competition for the Habanos Sommelier contest. I’ll be on a panel to discuss the Festival’s 20th anniversary. And, as always, I’ll give you an update on what inventories are like in the top Casas del Habanos here in the Cuban capital.

It’s tough hard work. But somebody’s got to do it. Oh, and Dave…no waves crashing over the Malecón this week.