Are Cuban cigars really rolled on the thighs of dusky maidens? I'd like to think so, but alas, such is not the case, as you'll soon discover on a tour of Havana's cigar factories. If you haven't visited one of these factories in a while, you'll find the scene dramatically changed.
Only two of Havana's six cigar factories now welcome visitors on a regular basis, and only on group tours. Strange as it may seem, you must now pre-purchase your tickets from the Hotel Saratoga or Hotel Habana Libre Tryp for visits to Fábrica Partagás (Calle Industria #502, e/ Dragones y Barcelona, Habana Vieja, tel. 07/862-0086 or 878-4368), on the west side of the Capitolio; and the out-of-the-way Fábrica Corona (20 de Mayo #520, e/ Marta Abreu y Línea, Cerro, tel. 07/873-0131). Both are open Mon.-Fri. 9-11 a.m. and noon-3 p.m, and charge CUC10 for 45-minute guided group tours.
No cameras are permitted.
Unfortunately, explanations of tobacco processes and manufacturing procedures are sparse. Tours usually bypass the tobacco preparations and instead begin in the galeras (rolling rooms), then pass to the quality-control methods. Visitors therefore miss out on seeing the stripping, selecting, and dozens of other steps that contribute to producing a handmade cigar. Duties vary by floor, with leaf handling on the ground floor, and stemming, sorting, rolling, box decorating, and ringing on the upper two floors.
The government assigns to each factory the job of producing particular brands. If you wish to visit one of the other specialist factories, you can request permission from Tabacuba (Virtudes #609, e/ Escobar y Gervasio, Centro Habana, tel. 07/877-6861), which is in charge of the industry.
• Fábrica H. Upmann (Calle 23, e/ 14 y 16, tel. 07/835-1371) makes the famous H. Upmann brand of cigars, plus cigarettes.. Note that this is not the original H. Upmann factory (Amistad #407, e/ Barcelona y Dragones), which no longer manufactures cigars.
• Fábrica El Laguito (Av. 146 #2302, e/ 21 y 21A, Cubanacán, tel. 07/208-2486) is considered the premier factory and specializes in Cohibas.
• Fábrica Héroes del Moncada (Av. 57 #13403, e/ 134 y 136, Marianao, tel. 07/260-6723) makes most major brands of export cigars, including Cohibas.
Fábrica Romeo y Julieta (Padre Varela, e/ Desague y Peñal Verno, Centro Habana, tel. 07/878-1059 or 879-3927) is now a cigar-rollers’ school and as of early 2009 no longer allows visits.