Why Are Cuban Cigars So Special? What I Learned in Havana

May, 12, 2023

Any cigar aficionado will happily tell you that Cuban cigars are among the best in the world. The Cuban cigar industry has been operating for centuries, and it has produced some of the most premium cigars in the world.

While the quality of authentic Cuban cigars is unquestioned, there is one thing left to answer: what makes Cuban cigars so special? This post will explain what sets Cuban cigar makers apart from other companies around the world.

On top of that, it will take a look at the best cigar factories to visit on a trip to Cuba and what American tourists need to know before going to Cuba.

Main Square in Havana Cuba
That’s me in the white button-down and hat!

​Brief History of Cuban Cigars

Tobacco products have been used in Cuba since hundreds of years before Christopher Columbus ever arrived. The indigenous people of Cuba used to smoke tobacco plants themselves, and have been doing so for almost a millennium. The natives of Cuba called the tobacco plant “Cohiba,” which is now the name of one of Cuba’s premier cigar producers.

While the native people didn’t originally create cigars, they did come up with the idea of smoking tobacco. Columbus was intrigued by this, and he brought the concept back to his bosses in Spain. The Spanish eventually excelled at trading tobacco, and the first cigar factory opened in Cuba 50 years later in 1542. 

Cuba remained the leading cigar producer in the world until the mid-1900s. While it is no longer the largest producer of cigars, it remains the world’s premier producer. Its methods have largely remained the same for 500 years.

The Cuban government highly regulates the cigar industry. It requires the quality control of every single Cuban cigar to maintain the country’s prestigious cigar-producing reputation.

To this day, Cuba still makes the very best cigars in the world. Experts can consistently identify Cuban cigars in blind taste tests, which is further proof that they’re the

close view of Anejados Cuban cigars

​What Makes Cuban Cigars Different?

There are two key things that set Cuban cigars apart: the quality of tobacco and the skill of factory workers.

Since Cubans have been making cigars for over 500 years, they’ve perfected the process. Other countries began producing cigars much later, and thus are further behind on the learning curve. Cuban tobacco is also regarded as the best in the world due to the unique composition of Cuban soil and the island’s climate, especially in regions like Vuelta Abajo.

​A strong comparison is fine wine. Over a hundred countries can grow grapes, but not every country can make truly fine wine. Just like how France, Spain, Italy, and California produce the world’s top wines, Cuba produces the world’s top cigars.

The government’s strict regulations on cigar production protect the integrity of Cuban cigars. Nowhere else in the world can offer both authentic Cuban techniques and authentic Cuban tobacco. While countries like the Dominican Republic can make very good cigars, it is very difficult to outdo the Cuban stogie.

Bottle of Cognac and Cuban Cigar Outdoors

Best Cuban Cigar Brands to Try

There are several premium cigar producers in Cuba, but there are a few brands that really stand out. Romeo y Julieta, Trinidad, Cohiba, H. Upmann, Montecristo, and Partagas are all highly renowned.

Several powerful world leaders, like Fidel Castro and President John F. Kennedy, have been known for being cigar smokers, this is how Cohiba cigars and the like became such a status symbol.

All of the cigar manufacturers in Cuba are high quality. Since Cuba’s cigar industry had a monopoly for centuries, all of the tobacco plantations perfected their craft.

One of the best cigars you can try is the Cohiba Behike BHK, which has been recognized as the best cigar in the world several times.

Man smoking cigar on bench in Havana

Best Cigar Factories to Visit in Cuba

If you have the opportunity to visit Cuba, visiting a cigar factory is a must.

Many of the cigar factories offer tours, and learning about the industry and the cigar-making process is very unique and enjoyable. While there are several factories worth visiting, there are two factories in Havana that I highly recommend checking out: Partagas and H. Upmann. 

Both of these factories are located right in Havana, and they offer visitors the ability to walk through tobacco fields, watch the production of cigars, and ultimately buy some Havana cigars at the end. Tours are very affordable, as the cost of living in Cuba is generally very low from the perspective of foreigners.

brown leather bifold wallet with three cigars laying on top

​Can You Bring Cuban Cigars into the United States?

There is a misconception that you can’t bring Cuban cigars into the United States. This idea is completely false, even after the sweeping policy changes made by Donald Trump.

While the United States has an embargo in place against Cuba, it does allow its citizens to bring small amounts of products back into the country as long as they comply with import regulations. I wrote an entire post on how to pack cigars for a flight.

How Many Cuban Cigars Can You Bring Back to the United States?

Americans are allowed to bring Cuban cigars into the United States as long as they are for personal consumption and do not exceed the maximum allowances by US Customs, which are currently 100 cigars per adult over 21 years of age. 

These Customs rules are always subject to change, but this is the most recent information available on the US Customs website as of summer 2023. I personally imported several boxes of cigars after my most recent trip to Havana and didn’t have any issues, as they were for personal use.

Price data can be misleading, but I can definitely say that Cuban cigars are significantly cheaper in Cuba than they are anywhere else in the world, including in duty-free shops.

Boxes of Montecristo Cuban Cigars in Havana Factory

Things to Know About Visiting Cuba as an American

The Cuban government and people warmly welcome visitors from all over the world, including the United States. While the country’s communist past has caused a lot of destruction and pain over the decades, that doesn’t make Cuba off-limits to visit for most people. However, while Cuba welcomes Americans, the American government doesn’t always allow its people to go. 

While Cuba welcomes Americans, the American government doesn’t always allow its people to go. 

​In an attempt to oust the communist regime in Cuba, the American government put travel restrictions in place barring its people from visiting in most cases. These restrictions have continued all the way into the present. While it is possible to visit Cuba as an American, you need to make sure that your trip qualifies as eligible before you leave the country. 

One type of trip that the American government does not allow is pure tourism.

Generally speaking, Americans aren’t allowed to travel to Cuba for a regular family vacation. There are requirements that they must first meet, and then there are rules governing how they spend their money while in Cuba.

The United States claims that they do this to protect the Cuban people and boycott the Cuban government. For example, the American government requires that visitors stay in hotels owned by Cuban people, and not ones owned by the Cuban government.

There are several tour providers and travel agencies that specialize in organizing trips for Americans to Cuba, and it is often a great idea to work with them to make sure all requirements are met.

Can You Buy Cuban Cigars in Mexico?

While the best place to buy Cuban cigars is Cuba, many American tourists search for Cuban cigars while on vacation in other Latin American places. One of the most common places that Americans look for Cuban cigars is Mexico, as there are hundreds of vendors claiming to sell Cuban cigars in and around Cancun, Tulum, and the rest of the Riviera Maya.

It is very important to realize that the overwhelming majority of “Cuban cigars” for sale by vendors in Mexico are counterfeit.

They are not Cuban cigars at all. Instead, they are low-quality cigars with a Cuban label glued on.

​Cuban cigars are sold in authentic, sealed boxes. If there is a glass or plastic window on the top of the box, they are not real Cuban cigars. Cuban cigar companies do not make variety packs, and they do not put plastic windows on the top of their boxes to allow you to look inside.

Authentic Cuban cigars can be found in Latin American and European countries, but they will cost a lot. Expensive Cuban cigars are the only kind of Cuban cigars. When bought outside of Cuba, Cuban cigars should cost no less than $25 each for the cheapest ones. If anyone charges you less than that, you know you’re not buying an authentic smoke.


Hi, I'm Greg. I'm an avid traveler who has traveled to over 50 countries all around the world with my wife and kids. I've lived in Italy, Mexico, China, and the United States, and I dream of moving abroad again in the future. With this blog, I provide my audience with detailed destination guides to my favorite places and pro-tips to make travel as stress-free as possible.


  1. Reply

    joseph tahl

    May 20, 2023

    Your article was interesting but has two statements that i believe are not accurate. First, as of May 2023 and for several years prior, Americans cannot bring back ANY Cuban cigars into the US; the 100 cigar rule or unlimited for personal consumption was changed under President Trump several years ago. Second, your statement that people can take the tour of the Partagas Factory has not been true for several years. The entire building has been condemned as structurally unsafe; factory tours have not been given since at least 2000 and now, as of 2022, even the cigar shop on the ground floor is closed and has been replaced by a new shop in Habana Viejo near the Kempinski Hotel on Parque Centrale.

  2. Reply


    September 18, 2023

    I just returned from Cuba and the statement that the prohibition on bringing back Cuban cigars is a misconception is itself a huge misconception. OFAC law prohibits the importation of any Cuban cigars, current this September 2023. You can try it and maybe bring in a small amount in a cedar box, but buying from a Cuban state store is not in compliance with “Support of the Cuban people” category of travel anyway. If you buy from a farm directly in Pinar del Rio Province like Finca Alegre in Viñales you may be able to convince CBP that that is in compliance and spirit of supporting the Cuban people. Finca Alegre is allowed to sell 10% of their production directly but must give 90% to the Cuban government who upsells it in state stores in Habana to tourists.

Leave a comment

Meet The Author - Greg

Hi, I'm Greg. I'm an avid traveler who has traveled to over 50 countries all around the world with my wife and kids. I've lived in Italy, Mexico, China, and the United States, and I dream of moving abroad again in the future. With this blog, I provide my audience with detailed destination guides to my favorite places and pro-tips to make travel as stress-free as possible.