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Markspring1978

Cuba Trip Report- 2nd Hand

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A close friend of mine just returned from Cuba, he sent me the following trip report which I really enjoyed reading and thought other FoH members would enjoy as well. He is not a serious CC smoker, but wanted to buy some while he was there. I prepped him heavily with counterfeit warnings, I made it very clear that he should not buy any cigars, under and circumstances, from anywhere or from anyone other than an LCDH. He ended up bringing me back a box of Talisman and Sir Winston, which were both nice scores. I was hoping he would find La Trova for me as well, none to be found.

Enjoy the read...

We didn't get home until Sunday afternoon and it took my a couple days to get rested up and caught up to put together a trip report so here it is. Before I left I used your email plus info from the forums to make a shopping list of notes before I left so I would know what I was looking for and at (attached a copy here). I also included pics of boxes and logos which made it easy and fun and helped me spot fakes...not that the circumstances or prices weren't dead giveaways. 

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Within 20 minutes on the street in Havanna, while waiting for our lunch at an outdoor restaurant I walked into a curio shop and the lady tried to sell a box of Esplendidos with the story that her brother worked at the Cohiba factory.You can see why someone not knowing any better could easily jump at the chance to buy $490 worth of legitimate looking cigars for $180. This pic is full res so you can download to get a closer look:

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We spent our first 3 and half days in Havana. Our first day we spent walking around the old city, weaving in and out of the tourist areas. What was interesting is there were busy streets where there were tourist shops full of curious, but just a block away would be a state run local pharmacy or grocery with shelves almost devoid of selection and inventory. Our first stop was the hotel Flordita LCDH where I scored one of every cigar you recommended plus a box of 10 Quai d’ Orsay 54 because they only had one box left...I was glad I did because I never saw the Orsay 54 again anywhere. The place had a good selection and the staff was super friendly...but nothing from the special buy list. The second stop was LCDH shop in the Hotel Manzana which had significantly less selection than the Flordita. 

 

That first night we met two other couples for Dinner and eating at the renowned La Guarida - (friends of ours) from Kalispell who happened to be on a cruise and spending that night in Havanna. We all capped off the evening smoking cigars on the rooftop veranda of our Airbnb with panoramic views of the city. I had my Hoyo de Monterrey, Epicure #2 - which was good but milder than I preferred. 

 

The next morning we started out with the tour of the Partagas Factory which turned out to be a bit of a tourist trap. We were not allowed to take pictures and we learned less than you could watching a good youtube video on the subject. However, afterward, we visited the associated LCDH shop. The place was a zoo and full of tourists so I found my way into the humidor if so no other reason that I could hear myself think. One of the workers was there and he asked what I was looking for. I showed him the list and asked him if he had any of the La Trovas, Sir Winstons or Tallismans and he ran out of the room, emerging 30 seconds later with the box of Talismans. After double checking there was nothing else, we made our purchases. We had lunch and took pedal taxis back to our neighborhood. That afternoon we took our classic convertible tour of the city. This one was officially guided and we got but we found out over subsequent days that this wasn't really a big deal because whenever you flag a taxi it's either an old Russian or older American car. We got dropped off at the Hotel National where the staff of the LCDH was not very friendly or helpful and they didn't have anything I was looking for. 

I smoked my Romeo and Julieta Churchill short on the patio and had a $3 CUC coke because the espresso machine was down. This too was too mild a smoke for me and it was difficult to get a draw at least on that one. 

That evening we did a dinner in a local Cuban's home and learned how to make a traditional Cuban meal. It was one of the best meals we had in Cuba. After we got home I had my H Upmann Connossieur A on the veranda. This was a flavorful, well-balanced smoke that drew well, and I loved it. 

 

The second full day we started out at the San Jose Artisans Market. This place was an open warehouse the size of a football field and had unbelievable selection, quality and prices. I've seen some world-class work in different parts of the world but never so much high-quality stuff in a flea market like setting with flea market prices. We bought 5 pieces for less than $500. There were literally hundreds of stands with thousands of pieces. This place and the prices were clearly being caused by Communism. Here are just a few of the pics I took of pieces we considered

buying. Look at the range of styles. You'll have to visit our new home to see what we ended up with. 

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My travel companions were not very interested in Cigar stops so I on the way back went it alone and hit the LCDH's at the La Casa del Habano Mercaderes (originally missed this by one door and someone claiming that the vacant room at the top of the stairs was in fact a cigar shop brought out a box of fake Cohibas and tried to sell them to me) and the nearby LCDH shop in the Hotel Conde de Villanueva which I would describe as a hidden gem. It was a combination of a well stocked LCDH shop with good selection of all the brands, free puros for customers, lounge seating and a coffee bar. I talked cigars with the one guy working, bought a box of Connossieur A and smoked a free puro in the hotel's courtyard. 

 

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The next day we looked at more art, took a taxi tour of the fortress area, saw our U2 spyplane they shot down and one of ICBM's that bought them a 50 year U.S. embargo. We left for the 2 hour drive West to the Vinales Valley in the afternoon where we were to spend two nights and one full day. 

The next day was action packed, and started with a horse tour of Tabacco farms...where we stopped and learned how to roll cigars in the farmers hut. These were good for the first 10 minutes and then they got bitter probably because they need to be aged. Because I have a soft spot in my heart for agritourism I probably overpaid for the 25 puros I bought from the farmer for 50 CUC's.

 

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From my research talking to locals, if I had really set might sights on Puro's, they could have easily been had for 50 cents to $1 a piece in larger quantities. But our busy itinerary with our one day in Vinales did not allow me any time for shopping. As a side note, the Puros sold in the LCDH shops were always $4 a stick and up (other than the one the guy gave me when I bought a box of Connoisseur A's).  I did find one LCDH shop in Vinales but it didn't have hardly any selection left. The area is really the end of the road and full of tourists and supply probably just wasn't keeping up with demand and of course the state-run Habanos couldn't adapt. 

 

We spent the afternoon out of the hot sun in our hemisphere's largest cave system. Our guide took us traipsing through tobacco fields to a side entrance of the 40 KM long cave system to avoid the government-run section and entrance fees. 

 

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After that, it was back to the hotel for a dip in the pool to cool off before dinner. 

 

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After dinner, I enjoyed another one of my Connoisseur A's on our balcony overlooking the valley...and I was pleased I went with a box of 25. 

 

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After Vinalles we headed to Varadero for 4 days of R&R in an all-inclusive on the beach. I found a great selection but no special targets at the Casa del Habano facing the Cuatros Palmas hotel. By this point in the trip people at the LCDH stores were shaking their heads when I asked for Talismans and emphatically telling me it was impossible to find Behikes. Most shops said they would never see Behikes and one of the bigger shops said would only get a few boxes every three months. 

 

 

Once we checked into our hotel we took our mopeds over to the local tourist mall and I found a well stocked LCDH shop with the Sir Winstons I told you about. Here I told the folks I would buy the $90 Behike ashtray if they sold me the accompanying cigars but they just laughed at me. I smoked my Monte Cristo the last night. It was a great cigar, rich, flavorful and loved it at first...but it got a bit overpowering about halfway through the stick. It perhaps needed some aging.

 

 

Altogether we loved our trip to Cuba. We felt by far safer than any trip anywhere else we'd been in Latin or South America, perhaps even Costa Rica. It was certainly safer than a lot of places in the U.S. The thing about the Communist regime is they keep their thumb on the Cuban people so they don't mess around even with petty crime. They get 10 years in prison if they get caught with a joint. Everyone was super friendly and if you ate at the tourist-targeted restaurants the food was usually good. One thing that was nice is people are trying to work you over at every chance like they do in Mexico. There was no-one trying to sell us stuff on the beach. People are honest and we had some great conversations with locals. The big takeaway though was Communism sucks. I will return again, probably after further market reforms have taken hold or if communism falls (provided it is still stable). I would go see Trinidad and Cienfuegos next time. I would definitely revisit Havana and Varadero.

 

 

I would think that if you could get Angie to go to an all inclusive you could get her to go to one of the nicer resorts in Varadero. There's at least three that I would recommend that are very nice including the one we stayed in where we had a private bungalow 20 feet from the beach. Considering we're not there for the all you can drink alcohol... the food, service and decor all have to make up for it. And with the LCDH price fixing, it keeps the all-inclusive resorts from jacking up the price on Cigars!

 

In regard to your two boxes the 10 Tallismans and 25 Sir Winstons were each 331 CUC coincidentally (662 total). We did the double exchange with CAD to avoid the 10% penalty (%13 inducing the transaction fee) on USD. Using CAD made each CUC cost about a 7% premium to our USD. Paypal is fine with me.

 

 

 

 

 

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On 2/14/2019 at 2:03 PM, mtapia3 said:

I didn’t know there was a hotel Flordita LCDH and hotel Manzana LCDH...

The 2nd floor of the Manzana Kempinski has a nice cigar lounge that is like many things in Cuba--elegant, ornate, and usually empty. It's not really promoted much and most people who stop in at this hotel to visit are going up to the 7th or 8th floor roof terrace. The 2nd floor cigar lounge had a pretty decent selection, lots of singles available, and a nice lady who was very knowledgeable working there. We stopped in on two separate occasions on my last trip in Jan. 2019 and it was pretty much empty both times. The room also has individual balconies every 8-10 feet with double doors so you can pull a few chairs and a table over to your own little balcony, and enjoy views of Parque Cental and the surrounding buildings. The cigars here are sold at a 10% mark-up over LCDH prices, so I was warned,..it seemed like maybe 15% or so to me.

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37 minutes ago, DSegal said:

The 2nd floor of the Manzana Kempinski has a nice cigar lounge that is like many things in Cuba--elegant, ornate, and usually empty. It's not really promoted much and most people who stop in at this hotel to visit are going up to the 7th or 8th floor roof terrace. The 2nd floor cigar lounge had a pretty decent selection, lots of singles available, and a nice lady who was very knowledgeable working there. We stopped in on two separate occasions on my last trip in Jan. 2019 and it was pretty much empty both times. The room also has individual balconies every 8-10 feet with double doors so you can pull a few chairs and a table over to your own little balcony, and enjoy views of Parque Cental and the surrounding buildings. The cigars here are sold at a 10% mark-up over LCDH prices, so I was warned,..it seemed like maybe 15% or so to me.

I never knew this lounge existed. Sounds like it’s worth a visit. 

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I never knew this lounge existed. Sounds like it’s worth a visit. 

It’s worth seeing but as DSegal said it’s usually empty which affects the general atmosphere and enjoyment


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A friend, who thought he was doing a favor for his cigar smoking buddies, bought a box just like this from his Uber driver in Miami. None of the stickers were attached to the box, the box corners were square instead of rounded and the cigars smelled like fresh cut grass. Sadly, I had to tell him they were fakes.

Anyway, great story and pics, thanks for sharing!

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2 hours ago, Derboesekoenig said:

Can you ask him where he recommends to stay in Varadero?

Trying to find a different place than I stayed at last time.

He just texted me this info: The Royalton is the probably the nicest but it’s pricey. The Iberostar is the highest rated/most expensive...but I think the Royalton is the better value on high end options. Best value is the Sol Polmeras. It’s middle priced but in pretty good shape, decent food, good service. 

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17 minutes ago, Markspring1978 said:

He just texted me this info: The Royalton is the probably the nicest but it’s pricey. The Iberostar is the highest rated/most expensive...but I think the Royalton is the better value on high end options. Best value is the Sol Polmeras. It’s middle priced but in pretty good shape, decent food, good service. 

Thanks. I appreciate it. I stayed at Hotel Ocean Vista Azul....it was ok. But meh. Would rather stay somewhere else

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Thanks. I appreciate it. I stayed at Hotel Ocean Vista Azul....it was ok. But meh. Would rather stay somewhere else

If I’m in Cuba with my wife we do a split Havana/Varadero trip and have stayed at the Laguna Azul a couple of times. It was good.


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On 2/14/2019 at 11:03 AM, mtapia3 said:

I didn’t know there was a hotel Flordita LCDH and hotel Manzana LCDH...

There isn't.  The shop beside Floridita is a Casa del Ron y Tabaco...(Dodgy at best), and the shop at Manzana is a Cohiba Atmosphere.  

 

The author also talks about an LCDH on Mercaderes. That is incorrect. It is a Casa del Tabaco, not an LCDH.

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11 hours ago, BigSkySmoke said:

Wow...awesome write up. Anyway he mentioned if he shipped the art back prior to flying?

And actually, this guy lives close to you in Kalispell. 

He brought the artwork back in a tube. 

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7 hours ago, Markspring1978 said:

And actually, this guy lives close to you in Kalispell. 

He brought the artwork back in a tube. 

Right down the road from me...we are planning for the end of October/beginning of Nov. And one thing Ive been trying to read up on is the best way to ship back to the states. Art, kitchenware, ect...

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