Havana Cigars and “Almendrones”

Some people say that Cubans boast too much about the virtues of their island. But in the case of the legendary cigars of the Pinar del Río region, the fame is absolutely well deserved.

There is no secret: the essential ingredients of Havana cigars grown in those lands have special characteristics and are part of a tradition that has been cultivated for centuries. That’s why they can’t be produced anywhere else, just like Cuban rum.

The first tip to enjoying a good cigar is to only buy them from official stores. This guarantees optimal quality, and allows you to avoid the possibility of disappointment or misunderstandings.

Those in the know recommend the classic brands: Cohíba, Montecristo, Corona, Romeo y Julieta… In the capital they can be found in the National Hotel, the Habana Libre, the Meliá Cohíba, as well as in the Casa Partagás (in Old Havana) and the Casa del Habano, from Miramar. There are also specialized stores throughout the country.

Ask the clerks which vitola (unique measurement of the cigar) looks more like what you are looking for, and with what drinks, cocktails, or coffee it would go well with. Of course, it is important to take your time. A good tobacco tastes better when smoked unhurriedly, for example, after a long dinner or during a lengthy conversation with old friends.

The “Cuban experience” is not complete without a ride in an almendrón, classic American cars used as taxis. It doesn’t matter if you choose a Buick, Ford, or Chevrolet. All of them are perfect for an exciting journey into the past.

For some time convertibles have beem very stylish, but guess what: most of them were not originally convertibles, but instead have had their roofs cut by someone who is skilled at working with sheet metal. The masterpiece is completed with new upholstery and paint, but with sober or elegant shades nowhere to be seen. These cars are all pink, orange, yellow, lime green … happy colors; colors of “eternal summer.”

When it comes time to pick out a route, don’t forget some essential spots. The Malecón, Quinta Avenida, calle 23, Plaza de la Revolución, El Prado, and Avenida del Puerto are all really worth seeing. You only need to bring a hat and sunglasses. [Cuba Travel Network has a large fleet of vintage cars, which are also available for group tours.]

Another way to take this journey is to ride in the taxis that Cubans use. They are cheaper (10 Cuban pesos = 50 cents U.S.), but lack the comfort and beauty of the almendrones. The routes are prefixed, similar to the public bus routes. Honestly, this is an option for those who are daring and not very demanding.

If you are interested in the world of classic cars of the fifties, take advantage and ask about the car you are in. Drivers love to talk about their “babies,” so you can ask them about all the repairs they do almost every day to keep them running. The interiors of these vintage cars are also fascinating to see.