They say that if you do something enough, eventually you get used to it, but whoever said that had obviously never had to deal with my Cuba travel itinerary.
As I have for the past four years, I am here to cover daily events during the island country’s Festival del Habano—also known as the Habanos Festival—which is an annual event held in the capital city of Cuba that attracts people from more than 70 countries all over the world. The festival is celebrating its 22nd anniversary this year, and in addition to featuring an estimated 2,200 attendees as well as more than 200 journalists, it is also the event where Habanos S.A. previews a number of its major releases every year.
The five-day event also includes a number of different seminars, a trade show with over 200 exhibitors and a variety of dinners, each of which is centered around a different brand, with this year’s list including the Bolívar, Montecristo and Romeo y Julieta marcas as well as the 30th anniversary of La Casa del Habano, which is the global network of Habanos retailers.
Specifically, Monday night will be the debut of the Bolívar Reserva Cosecha 2016, Wednesday night will commemorate the 30th anniversary of La Casa del Habano and the 85th anniversary of the Montecristo brand while the Gala Evening on Friday night is dedicated to the Romeo y Julieta brand, which celebrates its 175th anniversary this year.
In addition, the festival will feature the finale of the International Habanos World Challenge Contest for the third year in a row. Having debuted in 2018, the contest tests the knowledge and experience of teams of contestants from all over the world. Each team has passed an initial contest in their home countries in order to compete in the final competition. Finally, the final night’s gala evening will include the annual Humidor Auction, wherein people from all over the world bid on custom-made humidors, with all proceeds—a number that typically exceeds over $1 million—going to Cuba’s national healthcare system. There are seven different humidors this year, including marcas like Cohiba, Montecristo and Trinidad.
However, there are two major changes to the festival compared to years past: first, the formal dinner on Wednesday night is now an invite-only event being held at the El Laguito Reception Hall, part of the famous El Laguito factory. Last year, that dinner was a party on Wednesday to celebrate Hoyo de Monterrey, with tickets priced at 500 CUC. It’s unclear whether Habanos S.A. plans to have an additional evening beyond the welcoming evening on Monday and the gala on Friday.
The other major change is that unlike last year, the Festival del Habano is not being held during the same week as the Dominican Republic’s cigar festival named Procigar, which this year took place from Feb. 16-21, 2020.
Once again I woke up at 2 a.m. after about two hours sleep to catch a 5 a.m. flight to Miami before rushing to a 10 a.m. flight to landing in Havana, Cuba. Both flights were fairly uneventful, and I landed right around 10 a.m. before making my way through customs and beginning the long wait for my luggage, a process that ended up taking almost two hours.
After a 30-minute taxi ride, I arrived at the location I am staying all week, located in the heart of Havana and within walking distance of a number of the major events that will be happening. In fact, I had just enough time to change and get my cameras together before leaving to take a six-block stroll to an exclusive media pairing event conducted by Asbel Morales Lorenzo, a Havana Club rum master, and Fernando Fernandez, a master Habanossommelier, at the Hotel Packard. The event debuted last year and consists of select members of the press who are covering the Festival getting together before it officially opens.
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Last night, select members of the media covering this year’s #festivaldelhabano in Havana, Cuba were invited to an exclusive pairing at the Hotel Packard that included the debut of Partagás Tropicales, which consists of 450 numbered humidors celebrating the brands’ 175th anniversary.
However, while last year’s event included a tasting of the Trinidad 50 Aniversario and Havana Club’s Tribute 2019 rum, this year was intended to show off the Partagás Tropicales, a release of 450 numbered humidors each containing 50 of the aforementioned cigars, a new 6 4/5 x 54 vitola that celebrates the 175th anniversary of the Partagás brand. The cigars were paired with Havana Club’s Tribute 2020 rum, which is also debuting during the festival.
After that event concluded, I took the opportunity to walk back to the place I am staying, where I hooked up with some friends for one of our annual traditions, dinner at Doctor Café, which is known for its grilled octopus and sea turtle entrees. Then it was back to my room for some quick work before retiring around midnight so I could get a bit of sleep before the Festival officially opens tomorrow.