Cuba is an extraordinary and unique country in many ways. Two of its fine gifts often stand out amongst the best in the world. These are Cuban rum and Cuban cigars. Cuba is known as the birthplace of the Mojito and the Daiquirí, both rum-based drinks whom American Author, Ernest Hemingway, was known to have mentioned in one of his memorable quotes, “My mojito in La Bodeguita, my daiquiri in El Floridita.” The country is also a top producer of Cuban cigars, often referred to as habanos. Connoisseurs, aficionados, and celebrities gather every year in the City of Havana to attend the Festival del Habano. In 2020 the City of Havana will be hosting the 22nd edition of the Festival.
The team at OnCuba Travel has prepared an immersive and all-inclusive 5-day and 4-night itinerary for the Cigar and Rum Tour of a lifetime, which includes admission to the 22nd Habanos Festival. The program will also include an exploration of Cuban culture, Havana highlights, exquisite cuisine, tastings, and many opportunities to sample cigars. The hosts of the program are the ladies of Tres Lindas Cubanas Cigars, dynamic twin sister duo Yvonne and Yvette. For 2020, the Festival will be taking place from February 24th to the 28th.
Festival Internacional del Habano
Upon arriving in the Cuban capital of Havana, your OnCuba Travel host will welcome you. Then, you will travel by car to the Festival Internacional del Habano. Here you will have an opportunity to meet cigar experts and aficionados from all over the world. Take advantage of this experience to the fullest. Engage in conversations with the knowledgeable and experienced staff from the Festival and the many exhibitors. Last year I had the opportunity to speak to a gentleman who started as an apprentice cigar roller. After years of training and experience, he mastered the skill. He then became the master who trained apprentices in the art of cigar rolling.
During the Festival, visitors will be able to watch expert cigar rollers at work and learn about every stage of cigarmaking. The Festival will have demonstrations, but also previews of exclusive products and is often a platform for product launches. Visitors can also take this opportunity to explore different types of humidors, unique vitolas, collector’s and one-of-a-kind items, carved figures, and even rare vintage items from the time before the Cuban revolution.
There is an international culture surrounding habanos, from how to light them and savor them to how to pair them with food and beverage successfully. To learn more about the different types of vitolas (or even what these are), read an overview of how to light a cigar correctly, and how to pair them to get the best flavor, visit the blogs A Constellation of Cuban Cigars With Style – Part 1 and Part 2.
Backstage Tour of a Real Cigar Factory
Walking the hallways of a real cigar factory is a unique experience. Being able to watch these artisans at work and learning about the step-by-step process of cigar making allows for a deep appreciation of this art form. Workers have different stations, from separating the types of tobacco leaves to rolling cigars to the desired sizes, compacting them, cutting, and packaging requires a disciplined and coordinated effort. The guide that accompanies the group also offers lots of detailed insight into the art of cigar making and the history of tobacco in Cuba.
Participants will also visit the Montesino Tobacco Farm in Pinar del Río as part of the experience. The farm is about an hour from Havana. This area is well-known for being one of the top producers of quality tobacco leaves in Cuba. Here you will be able to piece together the process, from how tobacco is grown, to how it is processed before it makes its way to a factory, and finally to shops for consumers.
As part of the itinerary, there will be several stops in Casa del Habano shops like the one at the Museo del Tabaco, the shop at the Habana Libre Hotel, and the shop at the famous Meliá Cohiba Hotel. Other cigars shop visits may also include Hotel Parque Central Tobacco shop, the Partagás shop, and Hotel Conde de Villanueva Tobacco Shop. Another stop will be at the Casa del Habano in the historic Hotel National de Cuba. The view from the back of the hotel, towards the Malecón, are breathtaking. It’s one of the many spots that make you truly appreciate what makes this trip worthwhile, all while you sip cocktails and perhaps enjoy a cigar. Group members will also have opportunities to buy cigars, rum, and other items for personal use.
History of Rum in Cuba
The itinerary will continue with the history of rum in the Museo del Ron in Old Havana. The museum tells the story of rum, and more specifically, the tale of Havana Club Rum. It offers a unique and detailed insider’s look at how this rum came to be.
The inside of the museum houses memorabilia from the stages of rum production to items of nostalgia, such as a giant train set, and a film that includes several vintage elements. Towards the end of the tour, visitors will also have an opportunity to taste and shop the famous rum in many sizes and packaging options. One of my favorite parts of this visit was the very animated and multilingual tour guide that hosted our group.
Tour Old Havana in a Vintage Convertible
In addition to the walking portion of the tour, which will include parts of the famous Prado Avenue, one of the best ways to tour Old Havana is in a vintage car! Enjoy the City of Havana with a panoramic and unobstructed view. Take in the sights of the Malecón, drive in front of the famous and recently restored Capitolio building, see the José Martí Memorial and other parts of the city in this unique mode of transportation. The vintage cars come in many models and colors. Some of the vehicles are worthy of a showroom and a collector’s dream, yet they are driven freely in Havana. The vintage cars are also much fun when taking colorful pictures of the experience to share with friends and loved ones back home.
Within Old Havana, you will also visit La Bodeguita del Medio, famous for being one of Ernest Hemingway’s favorite places and the birthplace of the Mojito! There will also be opportunities to shop for souvenirs at stops like the Almacenes San José Artisans’ Market and El Palacio de la Artesania, set in an old mansion on the water. These crafts markets will give all just a glimpse of the talent and skill level of Cuban artists and artisans.
Discover Exquisite Cuban Cuisine
During the visit to Cuba, in this tour, you will visit several established and independently owned Cuban restaurants called Paladares. These will range from traditional to modern fusion cuisine. One of the places you will visit will be the Mediterráneo Havana, which is a farm-to-table restaurant with the freshest ingredients, all locally sourced. The restaurant is known for its natural meat and cheese boards, flavorful sauces, and dairy fresh ice cream.
In this culinary adventure, you will also visit Paladar Doña Eutimia. This traditional restaurant is in Plaza de La Catedral, one of the highlights you will explore on a walking tour of Old Havana. The restaurant is famous for its flavorful cuisine in a relaxed and casual setting. L’Atelier Paladar Restaurant is another highlight in this tour. This restaurant offers Cuban fusion cuisine in a beautiful old house converted into a restaurant. The ambiance helps set the tone for dinner in this artistically inclined and delicious culinary experience. Food truly becomes an art form here!
This journey of flavors also includes San Cristóbal Paladar. This establishment became more broadly known after it received a visit from former U.S. president, Barack Obama. The restaurant is full of details and collections of items such as clocks, religious figures, antiques, and many other rare items. The presentation of their food is as elaborate as their décor. One of the things I appreciated about this restaurant was the level of attention to detail the staff went into when serving and presenting each provocative course.
Tour Old Havana in a Vintage Convertible
In addition to the walking portion of the tour, which will include a part of the famous Prado Avenue, one of the best ways to tour Old Havana is on a vintage car! Enjoy the City of Havana with a panoramic and unobstructed tour. Take in the sights of the Malecón, drive in front of the famous and recently restored Capitolio building, see the monument a Martí, and other parts of the city in this unique mode of transportation. The vintage cars come in many models and colors. Some of the vehicles are worthy of a showroom, yet they are driven freely in Havana. The vintage cars are also appealing when taking colorful pictures of the experience to share with friends and loved ones back home.
Within Old Havana, you will also visit La Bodeguita del Medio, famous for being one of Ernest Hemingway’s favorite places and the birthplace of the Mojito! There will also be opportunities to shop for souvenirs at places like the Almacenes San José Artisans’ Market and El Palacio de la Artesania, set in an old mansion on the water.
Delve Into the Slave Route in Cuba & The City of Matanzas
A visit to Cuba would not be complete without an immersive view of its culture. Matanzas is a city located about 55 miles from Havana. It is known for its connection to Afro-Cuban history and culture. One of the stops of the Cigar And Rum Tour is the San Severino Castle in Matanzas. This castle once served to protect the city. It was destroyed in the 1700s in a drastic attempt to prevent it from being taken over by the British. The castle was rebuilt later, once Havana returned to the Spanish. Today, it is part of the Slave Route Project and houses the Museum of the Slave Route, which demonstrates the influence of Africa, Latin America, and the Caribbean in the local culture.
This cultural experience will also have a visit to The Casa de Africa Museum. The museum houses several artifacts that tell the stories behind the African influences on Cuban arts and culture. Another essential stop is at the Museo de Los Orishas in Havana. This unique museum, also a temple, offers excellent insight into the history of the Yoruba religion and the Orishas – the Yoruba deities – in Cuba. The museum has several full-size figures that represent many of the Orishas. Each deity has a collection area for gifts, called ofrendas, that visitors bring. These are usually in the form of the shapes, elements, and colors that each one of the Orishas represents.
Explore Viñales & Visit Varadero
Last, but certainly not least, the group will visit the Valley of Viñales and the resort area of Varadero. The UNESCO has recognized the beautiful and almost undisturbed area of Viñales as a World Heritage site. Is it an eco-friendly paradise. While in Viñales, travelers will also visit the Mural de la Pre-Historia, an almost 400-foot-long painting on the side of a cliff. The painting depicts the theory of evolution. To round up the tour, the group will enjoy an afternoon in Varadero, overlooking its natural beauty and crystalline waters.
Ready to get started?
Hopefully, I have managed to pique your interest in visiting the beautiful Island of Cuba. This program covers a lot of areas of interest over a relatively short period of time. The team at OnCuba Travel handles the logistics flawlessly, making the travel experience very enjoyable. The best part is that an all-inclusive program will include roundtrip flights, accommodations, several meals, and transportation. It is a great way to minimize worry and maximize the experience. If you would like to learn more about this and other all-inclusive programs, contact OnCuba Travel. If you prefer to make a custom program, their knowledgeable team can also assist you in finding the best flights to Havana, accommodations in Cuba, airport transfers in Havana, a car rental for pickup at the airport in Havana and other locations, as well as specialized half and full-day excursions. Don’t take risks and work instead with a professional agency specialized in legal travel to Cuba, like OnCuba Travel.