The end of a Cuban cigar lies stubbed out on the sidewalk. Forms of cigars have been smoked in Cuba since at least the 16th century. Christopher Columbus and his sailors reported that the Tainos, smoked a primitive form with twisted tobacco rolled in palm leaves.
Havana – Been There

Inside a classic Havana cigar factory

Photo by Jochem Wijnands

Havana – Been There Inside a classic Havana cigar factory

An iconic sight in Havana I cannot resist is a cigar factory. The image, as seen in countless Hollywood movies, is beautiful women rolling tobacco leaves on their thighs.

Kieran Meeke
Kieran Meeke Travel Writer

The reality, in H Upmann’s, which dates back to the 1840s, is much less erotic but even more fascinating, accompanied by the heady smell of cured tobacco. The workers are a mix of all ages and both sexes, from girls to old men, but it is amazing to watch them skillfully roll leaves on worn leather pads. Paid by the number of cigars they make, with poor quality ruthlessly rejected, their concentration is broken only by the voice of a lector, the reader who provides entertainment and education.

The party newspaper Granma, named after the yacht that brought Che and Fidel Castro to Cuba to kick-start the revolution, is a must-read, of course. More popular choices are novels and I am told some of Upmann’s most famous brands are named after books the workers enjoyed: (The Count of) Montecristo and (Shakespeare’s) Romeo y Julieta.

My local guide Alvaro advises I buy cigars from the shop here or one of the official ones dotted around town. I have been offered boxes in the street, some bearing official seals. “You might get lucky,” he says, “but mostly they are just a few tobacco leaves wrapped around a roll of newspaper.”

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