Now there’s another great reason to visit Cuba: the Obama administration has just lifted restrictions on the number of cigars tourists can bring back to US soil. Americans can now carry up to 100 cigars without paying customs taxes.
Cuba’s tobacco production can be compared to Napa Valley’s wine culture – it’s taken seriously and can be a big draw for tourists.
While foreign sales in cigars rose steadily through 2015, some Cuban tobacco farmers have earned an income by hosting international visitors, giving an inside look at how the cigars are produced.
One such farm is the family-run-and-owned Montesino. Located in Pinar del Rio, a little over an hour west of Havana, the farm is one of Cuba’s most renowned tobacco producers. Here’s how it makes a fine Cuban cigar.
Tobacco plants are generally planted late in the year and grown for three months before farmers pick it, leaf by leaf.
Tobacco seeds are extremely small, and each plant can produce up to 30 leaves.
Tobacco farmer Raul Valdes Villasusa shows his hands, calloused from years of hard work.
Workers on the farm are bused in from surrounding areas. Tobacco is the main crop in Pinar del Rio.
Many tobacco farms are part of a co-op and partially owned by the government.
Next, the fresh leaves are taken to the drying room.
The leaves are hung to dry in a process of “curing.” This step can take up to three months.
At organic farms such as Montesino, where pesticides and artificial fertilizers are not used, insects are picked off by hand.
The Montesino farm has been in the family for three generations. Here, owners Marcelo Montesino (right), stands with his son Eulogio, who hopes to one day keep the farm running.
Once the leaves are cured, the cigar is ready to be rolled.
The technique behind rolling cigars requires focus and can influence the overall quality of the cigar. Signs of a good cigar include a smooth and shiny wrapping, with all of the leaves wrapping in the same direction.
Some farms, such as Montesino, prepare food for tourists right on the premises.
While farmers have seen an increase in business over the past year, they’re hoping for even more relations with the outside world.