Best Cuban Cigars

The Ultimate Cuban Cigar Guide [Cigars in Cuba]

There are two things that Cuba is known for worldwide, one is rum, and the other cigars.  And Cuban cigars are known around the world for their taste and quality.  The economics of Cuban cigars has been integral to the history and development of Cuba and the development of the country.  There seriously is something special about them.  Tobacco and Cuba go a long way back, and the growth and development of the tobacco industry are an important part of Cuba’s history.  And it’s the mystique of Cuban cigars and how they developed that led to the status that they hold in the world.  Our Cuban Cigar Guide explains the beginnings, the background, and the best ways that you can experience Cuban cigars today.  Come on in!



box of cigars

Visit a Cigar Factory

This is the top Cuban Cigar experience in Cuba. Learn to make Cigars in Cuba from the history, a cigar making workshop, and learn to make your own cigars in Havana.

Cuban Cigars and Cuban Culture

Cuba is jam-packed and full of culture, history, and experiences.  Yet there’s nothing that characterizes Cuba’s culture more than the Cuban Cigar.  And I don’t smoke!  But I have smoked a cigar in Cuba.  Well a little bit of one, just to see what it was like.  And to understand why cigars are so intrinsically linked with Cuba we need to take a bit of a dive into history.  If you’re interested in Cuban history, then you should take a look at my guide to Cuban cocktails, which details some interesting Cuban history through cocktails too!

But I digress.  Let’s get back to Cigars.  If you just want to skip to the chase and go on a Cuban Cigar Tour, then here are my top 3 recommendations for tours that focus on cigars.  And, of course, a day trip to the Vinales Valley is a surefire winner for seeing tobacco plantations and cigars being made.

The Top 3 Cuban Cigar Tours & Workshops in Cuba

  1.  Take a Cuban Cigar workshop in Havana – this early evening workshop provides you, while you have a drink in hand with all the details of how Cuban cigars are made.  You’ll learn the history of Cuban cigars and then make your own.  Reserve a place now.
  2. Combine Cuban Rum and Cuba Cigars in Havana on this half-day tour in Havana.  You’ll get to explore a cigar factory and also visit the Havana Club Museum in Havana as well as, of course, taste and understand both of these iconic Cuban products.  Read more about this tour of Cuban Rum and Cigars here.
  3. If you’re staying in Varadero, then this combined tour to discover the Cuban history of Sugar, Rum, and Cigars is a fabulous option. There’s a visit to a sugar cane museum, and a trip to the home of the creators of Havana Club rum, followed by lunch and a tasting of local rum and tobaccoCheck out this tour on the trifecta of Cuban specialties here.

The History of Cuban Cigars

It was most likely the Mayans who invented cigars when they too dried tobacco, rolled it in plantain leaves, and smoked it for medicinal purposes, for offerings to Gods, and as an important part of religious ceremonies.

Cuban Cigars in the 15th century

Roll forward to the 15th century when Christopher Columbus showed up and Native Americans show him how to smoke.  The habit quickly became popular amongst the Spanish who then exported both the knowledge and the tobacco plants back east to Europe.

As the popularity of tobacco products grew in Europe and the colonies and the demand for growing land grew, it was identified that Cuba had ideal growing conditions for tobacco.  At that time though, most of the cigar factories were built in Spain and for more than a century most of the tobacco leaves grown in Cuban were shipped to Spain to be rolled.  It took a while for the cigar producers to figure out that the manufactured cigars survived the transatlantic journey better than tobacco leaves and that they could make more money by having cigar factories in Cuba right next to where the tobacco was grown.

And so cigar rolling factories were set up in Cuba.  At the same time, a few rules were put in place, to ensure that only the *right* people made the appropriate amounts of money from cigars. 

The Tobacco Monopoly of 1717

In 1717 King Philip V of Spain set up a Tobacco Monopoly.  This meant that Cubans could only grow tobacco for Spain.  If you grew, gave, or sold tobacco seeds to the non-Spanish colonies then you got the death sentence.  They were pretty serious about ensuring that the profits went to the crown!

The Repeal of the Tobacco Monopoly

It took 100 hundred years of the Cuban growers revolting against this monopoly before King Ferdinand VII repealed the monopoly.  Kind of.  In 1817 he began allowing Cuban cigars and tobacco to be freely traded through Spanish ports and thus began the Cuban cigar industry.  Those cigars have been playing a big role in both the political and social history of the country ever since – even during the 1962 US trade embargo.

Cuban Cigars during the 1960s Cuban Revolution

It was during the Cuban Revolution in the 1960s that Castro took control of Cuban tobacco farms and subsequently nationalized the industry.  This fundamentally changed the process, of farming and selling Cuban tobacco and cigars.  Most of the wealthy plantation owners were left penniless by Castro’s move and left Cuba, heading to either the Dominican Republic or the USA.  This loss of knowledge of almost an entire industry, along with the US trade embargo led to a huge dip in the industry, as the USA has previously been the biggest export market for Cuban tobacco.

It was good news for Cubans in Cuba.  They got to keep all the premium quality tobacco and they could start exporting to some European countries.  All went well until 1979 when a mold and then a bad harvest killed most of the crops and harvest.  In the years up to 1979, Cuba was exporting around 120 million cigars a year and it didn’t recover to this number until the early 2000s.

It was Obama’s lifting of the ban on Cuban tobacco products in the USA in 2016 that led to a huge boom in the cigar industry, with exports totaling US$500 million in 2017, as reported by Reuters here.

Why Are Cuban Cigars Unique?

Cuban cigars are made in their entirety from Cuban black tobacco, direct descendants of the tobacco plants that were seen by Columbus in 1492.  Cuban Cigars also tend to be hand-rolled.  No machines.

Growing Tobacco in Cuba

Cuban tobacco is grown on small plots of land – each grower can own up to 165 acres to be used for tobacco, but most plots are significantly smaller – less than 10 acres. 

Tobacco seeds are initially sown in greenhouses in October, transplanted into the fields after about 4 weeks, and then take around 4 months to grow before being harvested during March and April.

Where is tobacco grown in Cuba?

Tobacco can be grown all over Cuba, but there are four specific regions where tobacco can be grown and used for cigars that are protected by the “Habanao” designation.  These areas are;

The Vuelta Arriba Tobacco Growing Area

There are two separate areas in this particular region – the Remedios area and Oriente

The Vuelta Abajo Tobacco Growing Area

This is in Pinar del Rio province and it’s said to produce some of the world’s best tobacco because of the unique combination of climate and soil.  This is the only region of Cuba in which all varieties of tobacco leaves can be grown.  However, even here, less than 25% of the tobacco grown makes it into Havana cigars.

Tobacco Growing Plantation Vinales

The Partido Tobacco Growing Area

This is a smaller growing area to the southeast of Havana.

The Semi Vuelta Tobacco Growing Area

This area of Cuba, between Havana and Vuelta Abajo, is a specialist area for cigar wrappers and inserts.  Only 1% of the tobacco growing area here is used for cigars, tobacco grown here tends to be used for other uses.

Harvesting Tobacco in Cuba

Tobacco leaves are picked one by one and after the tobacco leaves are picked they’re then bundled together and hung on wooden poles in vented sheds or barns to dry for 45 to 60 days.

Tobacco Drying Racks

These leaves then dry and cure over the weeks they’ll turn from bright green to brown. 

Drying Tobacco Leaves Green to Brown

Once dry the leaves are packed into crates and taken to sorting houses, where they are dampened, aired, and flattened.  They’re then left to ferment for up to 3 months.  Cuban tobacco is fermented to remove the traces of ammonia which occurs naturally but can give a sour taste to the cigars.

Once the leaves have fermented, they’re graded, flattened, wetted again, and refermented before being classified again.  And only then are they sent to the cigar factory.  This whole process can take 2 years!

Once tobacco leaves are at the factory they’re graded by their color and strength, as each cigar type has a recipe that uses a certain ratio of leaves and types.   So they’re mixed together and sent to the production room.

Grading Tobacco Leaves in Cuba

Tobacco leaves are graded by where they grew on the plant and each grade of tobacco leaf has a specific use within the cigar.

The leaves with the strongest flavor come from the top of the plant, known as the “corona”.  It’s the leaves from the bottom of the plant that tend to burn the best.  The “fill” of the cigar is usually a blend of leaves from different parts of the plant to get a good taste and a good burn.

The mid-upper portion leaves are stronger and are used as “binders” – they hold the cigar together, but have little flavor.

Filler leaves can be taken from any part of the tobacco plant.

The cigar wrapper tends to come from leaves that have grown in the shade – which means the leaf doesn’t become too thick or oily – these leaves should be soft and have fewer veins.  A lot of flavor tends to come from these leaves and they are more expensive.

Who Makes Cuban Cigars?

For almost 200 years Habanos cigars – apart from a few brands and formats – have been made almost exclusively by hand.   There are a variety of roles in the cigar-making process.

The Maestro Ligador (Mix Master)

Every different brand and type of cigar has a specific recipe –the type and quantity of tobacco leaves used.  The Mixing Master (Maestro Ligador) is in charge of detailing the leaves needed for production and ordering them from factory warehouses.  The Ligador also works out the ratio and percentages of the different types of leaves for each cigar.  Once the batches of leaves are produced each day, in these specific ratios then they’re handed over to the cigar makers each day.

The Torcedores (Cigar Makers)

The process of making a hand-made cigar is the same.  There are four different levels of Torcedor (or Torcedora for women).  The highest level of Torcedor makes the most difficult and larger cigars and usually makes less per day.

Preparing to Make a Cigar

Normal torcedors tend to roll around 100 cigars a day.  They have several tools for their job

  • Wooden board
  • Two cutters – a special blade (Chaveta) and a tube (Casquillo)
  • Guillotine
  • Natural, tasteless vegetable glue (Goma)
  • Gauge for checking the check length and diameter of the cigar.
Making a Cigar

You’ll get to see this in practice on any of the Cuban cigar tours that you go on.  I recommend these

Rolling Cigars

Rolling a cigar

The Lector (Reader)

The custom of having a professional reader – Lector – in cigar factories dates back to the 1800s at a time when the readers had an important role in spreading political ideas of the day.  This led to the well-read (or well read-to) tobacco workers joining the Cuban independence fight.  The material that the Lector reads includes news, and novels – one famous one was The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexander Dumas (ah!  I hear you all say, and yes it’s connected and that’s why the Monte Cristo is so named). 

El Jefe de Galera (the Manager/Boss/Supervisor)

As well as supervising the torcedores, el Jefe is responsible for quality control.  Cigars are batched bundled, and marked with the torcedores number and details of the date of manufacture and brand.   They’re examined by weight, length, diameter, quality, and appearance.  There are even random samples taken to check the inner structure and the blend.

Bundled up Final Cigar Products

The Catadores – the Tasters

Each factory also has a team of tasters, who smoke a few cigars each day – looking for even burning, strength, taste, aroma, and quality. 

After all this is done, the cigars are rested in the Escaparate aka the treasure room or the showroom.

Resting cigars in the Escaparate

Before the cigars are packed, they’re placed in the Esaparate to lose any excess moisture.  These rooms have a constant temperature of 16 to 18º C and a relative humidity of between 65 and 70 percent.  They’re usually left there for a week before they are ready for smoking

Les Escogedores (the Sorters)

The sorters are responsible for bundling 25 or 50 cigars of the same color.  They work with a color stencil to ensure all are the same.  There will be a variation of colors within the same box, so they’re sorted with the darkest on one side of the box and the lighter ones on the other side.

The Anillador (the Belly Band Wrappers)

It wasn’t until about 1850 that the belly band or “anilla” was introduced, it’s said, to prevent wealthy customers from dirtying their white gloves while smoking.  It was Gustav Bock, the Dutch/German who emigrated to Cuba who introduced this.  Each belly band is carefully wrapped around a cigar and they are then placed face-side up in the box.

How to Tell a Fake Cuban Cigar

Well, good luck on this one.  You’ll find that most of Cuba’s fake cigars are actually made here.  Along with the fake box, the fake stamps, the fake seals, and the fake belly band.  There are two good ways to tell if a cigar is fake.

  1. Only ever buy from an official store or the official factory.
  2. If it’s cheap, then it’s 100% likely to be fake.
Finished Cigars

Buying Cigars in Cuba

The official “La Casa del Habano” stores are the official stores for buying Cuban Cigars.  You’ll find them in Havana and all the major cities where tourists venture to.  Depending on the store that you visit they could have a smoking lounge, they may have a walk-in humidor and they also may have knowledgeable managers.  Or they may not.

You’ll also be able to buy cigars at most tourist hotels (not casa particulars).  And if you take a specific Cigar tour you’ll be able to buy them there.  We also bought cigars at the farm that we visited on our trip to Vinales.  We also bought a cigar from a chap in the street in Santiago de Cuba – to be fair, he spent ages trying to convince us, we had a good chat in rudimentary Spanish and we paid our dollar for the entertainment more than anything else.  Which leads me to the next point.

Don’t buy cigars on the street.  Whoever approaches you (and you will be approached) will claim that the cigar is the real deal, but it’s cheap because they work there and were able to acquire a few.  Or similar such stories. 

Or do buy them.  Give it a go.  But they won’t be real.  They’ll be made from inferior tobacco leaves.

All the handmade cigars in Cuba will have

  • A Cubatabaco stamp
  • A factory mark

If the cigar is handmade then it will say “Hecho en Cuba. Totalmente a Mano.”, which means” Made in Cuba. Completely by Hand.

Cigars that have “Hecho a Mano” likely means that the cigar was made by machine and hand finished with the wrapper put on by and.

If the cigar has a label saying “Hecho en Cuba” then it’s a 100% surety that the cigar was made by machine.

Box of Cigars

Frequently Asked Questions:  FAQs about Cuban Cigars

Got questions about Cuban cigars? Or want to know more about exploring Cuba and the world of Cigars and we haven’t answered your questions?  Check out our frequently asked questions about how to make Cuban cigars and how to see it in action below, or ask us yours in the comments.

How many Cuban Cigars can you buy (and take home)?

It’s prohibited to take Cuban cigars into the USA. (source).  This applies to non-US citizens/residents as well.  (source)

For the rest of the world, you’ll need to check with your own government how many cigars you are allowed to take back into the country.  There are duty-free allowances for each country and you’ll also be able to find out the duty payable if you go over this.

What is the guarantee seal of the Republic of Cuba

The guarantee seal appears on all tobacco products from Cuba.  It was the order of the King of Spain in 1889 that first brought in the guarantee seal, as Cuba was a Spanish colony at this time.  After Cuba’s independence in 1902, a new law was brought in in 1912 that delivered a new design for the guarantee seal.  As of 1999 a red serial number and an emblem that can only be seen under ultraviolet light were added.

Which is Better?  A Thick or a Thin Cigar?

The thicker a cigar is, the more flavor it has and the cooler the smoke is because there is more air pulled into the cigar to cool it.  Thicker cigars are, it’s said, easier to smoke because they burn more slowly and more evenly.


These are the resources and booking sites that we use when traveling to Cuba.

Travel and Health Insurance are mandatory for entry to Cuba.

Get a Cuba Travel and Medical Insurance Quote from Visitors Coverage here

Alternatively, Civitatis Insurance is a great option for the required insurance for Cuba.

You will need a Cuba Tourist Card to enter Cuba – some airlines include these, if yours doesn’t, buy one from EasyTouristCard – now valid for 90 days.

Book your Viazul Bus tickets here

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Pack these Items – you’re unlikely to find them in Cuba

A filter water bottle

Hand Sanitiser


Mosquito Repellent

Travel / Power Adapter

First Aid Kit

Final Words on the Best Cuban Cigar Guide + Tours

There aren’t many people around the world who don’t automatically put together Cuba and Cigars.  And rightly so.  They’re a well-known export from Cuba.  And where better to see them made, to understand more about them and the impact that they’ve had on the world than on the island of Cuba itself?

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