For the second time in five months, I am in the country of Cuba to cover a major cigar event held in the city of Havana.

In September 2022, I was here to report on the 55th anniversary of the Cohiba brand, which was founded in 1966. That celebration was a much smaller—albeit no less stressful—version of what I have come to expect in my seven years visiting the island on assignment for halfwheel, an event that included a smaller gala celebration and a smaller humidor auction of the Cohiba 55 Aniversario Humidor which sold for €2.8 million ($2.39 million at the time.)

With that said, my trip this week is to cover the 23rd incarnation of the famous 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. However, this is the first time since 2020 that Habanos S.A. will host the marquee event after the 2021 and 2022 Festivals were canceled due to complications caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

As mentioned above, the festival is celebrating its 23rd 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 the La Casa del Habano franchise program.

Those attending the celebration of Cuban cigars in Havana are paying more to attend the various events compared to previous years after Habanos S.A. announced price increases in December:

  • Welcome Evening — $500 (350 CUC in 2020) — Event dedicated to the Montecristo brand to be held at Club Havana
  • Visit to Plantations in Vuelta Abajo in the Pinar del Río region — $150 (85 CUC in 2020)
  • International Seminar — $450 ($400 CUC in 2020)
  • Mid-week Evening — $700 — Event celebrating the Bolívar brand and the La Casa del Habano franchise program to be held at the El Laguito Protocol Room
  • Visit to Habanos Factories — $100 (40 CUC in 2020)
  • Gala Evening — $1,250 (700 CUC in 2020) — Dedicated to the Partagás brand

In addition, the festival will feature the finale of the International Habanos World Challenge Contest, which 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 country in order to compete in the final competition. Finally, the final night’s gala evening will once again 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.


Long-time readers of these trip articles probably know the routine by now: I woke up well before dawn to catch my first flight leaving DFW airport at 5 a.m. then rushed past 33 gates to make my flight to Havana an hour after I landed at the Miami airport.

From my experiences in past trips to the island, I was ready for almost anything after debarking and making my way down the familiar glass-line breezeway: from multiple hours standing in line at customs to a long enough waiting time for my luggage to appear that was able to see the movie Shazam in its entirety, albeit in Spanish. What I was not expecting was a process so quick and easy that I was off the plane, through a virtually empty customs room and past all three security check points—luggage in hand—in under 14 minutes.

In fact, it look me longer to explain where I needed to go—and more than twice as long to actually drive there—than the entire process took at the airport, something I would have considered next to impossible before I experienced it myself. After a 30 minute drive, I was dropped off at the location I was staying for the entire week and decided to spend a bit of time finishing up some work before heading to my first event.

Since it debuted in 2019, that event has been a pairing sessions that consists of select members of the press who are covering the Festival getting together before it officially opens. Held on an outside balcony at the Hotel Packard, this year’s event was meant to show off the Montecristo L’Esprit, a new size for Habanos S.A.’s Montecristo line packaged in a trio of humidors that have been produced in collaboration with S.T.Dupont. The L’Esprit is a robusto extra that measures 5 7/10 inches (145mm) long with a 50 ring gauge, a vitolas that Habanos S.A. refers to as the Preciosos, but which has also been used for the Partagás Maduro No. 3 under the vitola name Maduro No. 3.

In addition to the three humidors, there is a trio of similarly themed collections made up of lighters and accessories named after the three different stages of night: Le Crepuscule, La Nuit and L’Aurore. The Montecristo L ‘Esprit collection is inspired by Alexandre Dumas’ novel, The Count of Montecristo—which also gives its name to the brand—while also recognizing the 150th anniversary of S.T. Dupont, which was founded in 1872.

As the members of the media walked onto the balcony, we were handed our first cigar of the night—an H. Upmann Magnum 50—as well as our choice from a wide selection of rums. However, everyone was eventually drawn to the main table, where a Le Crepuscule humidor full of Montecristo L’Esprit cigars was resting surrounded by the various cigar accessories.

After a few speeches, everyone in attendance was handed one of the Montecristo L’Esprit cigars to try for themselves.

Glasses of the new Havana Club Don Navarro were also passed out, a release that pays tribute to the late José Pablo Navarro Campa, who has come to be known as the “father of Cuban rum”.

After leaving the hotel and returning to the house I was staying at, I continued working until it was time for dinner at a restaurant a short walk away. Then I was back to the hotel to finish up the post you are reading now, finally turning in for the night to try and get about four hours sleep before getting up for the first official day of the festival.

I say “try” to get some sleep, because of this:

For more updates from the Festival del Habano, follow Brooks Whittington and halfwheel on Instagram.

This story is part of halfwheel’s coverage of the Festival del Habano XXIII, the 2023 edition of Cuba’s annual cigar festival. For more coverage of the festival, click here.

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Brooks Whittington

I have been smoking cigars for over eight years. A documentary wedding photographer by trade, I spent seven years as a photojournalist for the Dallas Morning News and the Fort Worth Star Telegram. I started the cigar blog SmokingStogie in 2008 after realizing that there was a need for a cigar blog with better photographs and more in-depth information about each release. SmokingStogie quickly became one of the more influential cigar blogs on the internet, known for reviewing preproduction, prerelease, rare, extremely hard-to-find and expensive cigars. I am a co-founder of halfwheel and now serve as an editor for halfwheel.