Aficionados from all over the world have been meeting in Cuba at the end of February since 1999 for the world’s largest Habano event, El Festival del Habano. The program includes visits to tobacco plantations and factories, as well as workshops on rolling cigars and cigar competitions. The final evening includes the selection of three Hombres del Habano and auctioning of exclusive humidors. The proceeds will be donated to the Cuban Public Health System.
The cigar festival was born in a turbulent period, in which Cuba isolated itself again after a period of openness and détente, and adopted a confrontational policy towards the arch-enemy America. Nevertheless, the Habanos S.A. brought an international festival to life and became a great success story.
El Festival del Habano – a story of success
Around 400 people attended the festival in Cuba’s capital Havana at the premiere in 1999. Meanwhile, the week-long homage to Habano draws up to 2,000 producers, retailers, and aficionados from approximately 80 countries to Cuba, who get to experience an incredible platform for enjoying tobacco together, sharing their passion, and exchanging their experience. Even though the number of visitors from Europe has decreased steadily in recent years, visitors from Asia, especially from China, have filled these gaps. The proportion of retailers and private visitors has also changed, with more and more private guests traveling to Cuba in late February. The Swiss delegations have decreased steadily in line with the number of European visitors. According to rumors among experts, this could be explained by the similar structure of the program.
Plantations, factories, workshops, and fair
At the beginning of the five-day El Festival del Habano, the program includes visits to plantations. Since the fields are full of tobacco plants in February, these visits allow for unique impressions of the landscapes characterized by tobacco fields. While visiting factories, you get to watch the fascinating production process. Visitors can even try to roll the exquisite tobacco products in workshops under the guidance of so-called Torcedores.
In addition to these hands-on experiences, you can also gather interesting and useful information in various lectures held by Havana experts from all over the world. Around 180 exhibitors from all over the world present their cigars and accessories at the Habanos fair in the Palacio de las Convenciones, often utilizing the social occasion to introduce new cigars. Every year, various renowned brands take center stage, the origins of which date back 145 years. The brands this year are Bolívar, Montecristo, and Romeo Y Julieta.
Tastings and competitions
However, El Festival del Habano does not only invite visitors to watch, listen, and learn but also to taste and enjoy the finest Habanos. Of course, such cigar tastings are also paired with rum or whiskey visit Cigars and Whiskey – advice and suggestions for the perfect experience to find out what you should consider when pairing cigars and whiskey.
Those who do not only want to try cigars but also want to prove their refined nose and palate can participate in the Habanos World Challenge. Introduced in 2018, this competition tests the general knowledge of participants based on several challenges over the course of different stages. Another competition focuses on length, namely, on smoking the cigar to create the longest column of unbroken ash.
Gala Dinner, Hombre del Habano and auction for the public health system
Visitors to El Festival del Habano get their money’s worth, not only during the day. After it gets dark, the organizers invite you to glamorous evening events, starring top Cuban musicians and spectacular dance performances. At the closing Gala Dinner on Friday night, guests can look forward to the Hombre del Habano Awards. This Oscar of the cigar industry is awarded in three categories: for producers, business people, and communicators. The Gala Dinner traditionally concludes with an auction of exclusive humidors ever since the event was first staged. It raises up to CHF 1.7 million, all of which are donated to the Cuban Public Health System.
Visitors from all over the world
The cigar festival now welcomes as much as 2,000 guests from around 80 countries. Among them are also well-known personalities from the worlds of entertainment and sports. Actors like Jeremy Irons and Joseph Fiennes, the golfer Miguel Ángel Jiménez, as well as the English designer and restaurateur Sir Terence Conran have already attended the event. Fidel Castro also appeared in the early years of the tobacco event.
Heinrich Villiger has visited the tobacco island around 100 times in the last 55 years – also at the time of El Festival del Habano, of course. In an interview at www.heinrichvilliger.ch, the grand seigneur of the cigar industry still remembers the appearance of the former Cuban President: “Castro spoke of the cigars as an excellent product and said: ‘We are now producing 100 million, but we want 120 million, 150 million and more,’ and the Cubans were sitting there listening to him in awe.”