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Gran Hotel Manzana Kempinski in Havana, Cuba

Tobacco Tourism: Caribbean destinations for the cigar lover

by Nick Hendry

As a new year properly begins many Cuban cigar smokers will turn their attention to the upcoming cigar festivals.  After the hangovers have faded and the schedules returned to normal we need something good on the horizon to get us through what feels like the 60 days of January.  For some, the bright light to strive towards will be the fact that February sees many Caribbean destinations host cigar festivals to coincide with the beginning of the harvest season, led by the annual Festival del Habano in Havana.  A trip to the warmth of Cuba is the ideal dream to carry one through a long European winter.

Cuba is not the only nation to host a cigar festival around this time of year – Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic have their own celebrations.  In 2021 the Habanos Festival became the online-only Habanos World Days festival due to travel restrictions; other nations followed suit.  As things stand for 2022, Nicaragua have already announced the cancellation of their Puro Sabor festival, the Dominican ProCigar Festival has been confirmed for 22nd-25th of February, and rumours abound of a second consecutive cancellation of Havana’s version.  It seems we may have a little longer to wait before reconvening at cigar banquets in the tropical sunshine.

Happily, while the festivals may have been cancelled each nation is still open for general tourism, allowing aficionados to make their own pilgrimages to tobacco-producing lands in search of warm weather and plentiful puros.  If you fall into this category, here are some places which should be on your list of options.

Gran Hotel La Manzana Kempinski Rooftop Pool, Havana, Cuba

Rooftop pool at La Manzana Kempinski.  Image, and lead image, courtesy of the hotel.

Gran Hotel Manzana Kempinski, Havana, Cuba

We couldn’t start this guide anywhere other than Havana, and the Gran Hotel Manzana Kempinski is probably the finest hotel in the capital.  Located in the heart of Old Havana, within easy walking distance of legendary restaurant La Guarida, this luxury property is the ideal base from which to explore the city before returning to recharge in the spa.  As one would expect in Cuba, there is a dedicated tobacco lounge where guests can select from the finest cigars Cuba has to offer, but the jewel in the crown has to be the rooftop pool and bar.  The views across the city take in the Capitol and Grand Theatre, and can be enjoyed from the infinity pool over a continental-and-Cohiba breakfast.  Whether or not you have the chance to attend the festival, this is a destination for any cigar-loving traveller.

Casas del XVI, Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic

Two of the private pools on offer at the villas in Casas del XVI.  Images courtesy of the hotel.

Casas Del XVI, Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic

Like Cuba, Dominican Republic has the honour of its capital, Santo Domingo, being registered as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  Santo Domingo is the oldest colonial city in the region, and Casas Del XVI is an extraordinary collection of townhouses in the very centre.  Guests can choose from rooms in the main hotel or private residences within the complex, each boasting private pools and luxury amenities.  Most of the villas date from the 16th century and have been exquisitely restored and modernised to create truly unique holiday accommodations.  Tours and outings can be booked by the concierge to experience the history of the area, but the main draw for aficionados will surely be the hotel’s relationship with Arturo Fuente, through which guests have access to rolling seminars and tours of the Fuente Chateau to see the fields first-hand, before dining in their restaurant.

Mukul Resort, Nicaragua

Ocean view from a villa at Mukul resort.  Image courtesy of the property.

Mukul Beach, Golf and Spa, Guacalito, Nicaragua

Guacalito is around 2.5 hours south of Managua, the Nicaraguan capital, but upon arrival at this breath-taking complex the journey will feel worthwhile.  Occupying over 1,500 acres of stunning coastline, this astonishing estate offers a private golf course, miles of deserted beaches – some of which are the location for conservation programmes which allow guests to help re-populate endangered sea turtles – and a host of extraordinary dining options.  Hike through the surrounding rainforests to see iguanas, monkeys, and more or take to the waves for some surfing, all before a relaxing beach massage followed by dinner under the stars.  Most of the main tobacco regions are far to the north, but about 2 hours due east is the volcanic island of Ometepe – home to a few farms, and some incredibly dramatic scenery.  If all this seems a little hard to get to, the resort does have its own international airport only 10 minutes away if you want to charter your own Gulfstream.

Las Verandas, Roatan, Honduras

 Las Verandas villas have views across the Caribbean.  Image courtesy of the property.

Las Verandas Hotel & Villas, Roatán, Honduras

Roatán is a picturesque island around 40 miles off the north coast of Honduras.  Travellers can either head directly to the island’s international airport or fly to the mainland and catch a ferry, and will be greeted upon arrival at Las Verandas by palm trees, exquisite gardens and endless blue skies.  The resort features all the usual luxury touches – villas, restaurants, golf course, spa – but where Las Verandas stands out from the rest is in the wealth of aquatic activities on offer.  Fish for deep sea marlin, snorkel or scuba-dive the ancient coral reef running along the coast, or hire a catamaran to explore the ocean and spot whale sharks and sperm whales.  For those more at home on land, ziplining from tree to tree through the rainforest will give you an unusual and exhilarating perspective on the island.  After all this excitement – or instead of, if that’s more your vibe – light a cigar on your ocean terrace, watch the waves lap against the beach and let all your stresses melt away.

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