The final day is simple: wake up, eat, go to the airport in Managua. And with that, the Nicaraguan cigar festival is over.

It’s incredible to see the growth of Puro Sabor compared to where it was two years ago, let alone where it was before that: when multiple members of the organization were strongly opposed to the concept of a Nicaraguan cigar festival due to how poorly the first two had gone. In short, they were embarrassed.

Not only is there nothing to be embarrassed about, there’s a lot to be proud about.

Puro Sabor 2016 Box

Puro Sabor 2017 is worth attending next year and given the supply issues with hotel rooms this year, my guess is it might actually sell out due to capacity restrictions. There were many first time attendees to the festival this year, new members, new industry folk and new guests—all of them seemed pleasantly surprised by just how well run the festival was. That’s a testament to Juan Ignacio Martínez, the Asociación Nicaragüense de Tabacaleros’s new head, Nestor Andrés Plasencia, who oversaw the organization during the last two festivals, and Maximiza, the event coordinator whose fingerprints can be seen all over the festival.

More importantly, it’s a testament to the members new and old.

Unlike past years, everyone involved seems genuinely interested in the festival being the best version it can be. Before, members were complaining about the high cost, disorganization and lack of attendance. This year? Factory owners were genuinely interested in how the festival can improve and not just whether I was enjoying myself. While that’s not something most will be able to spot, the attitude change and commitment level is perhaps the most important shift in the last few years.

Plasencia Cigars Boxes

Is it better than the Dominican Republic’s Procigar festival at the moment? No, it’s not. But Procigar has people working on its festival year-round and its festival is almost double the age of Nicaragua’s. While Nicaragua should continue to establish its own festival, there are a few things I think it could learn from its Dominican counterpart.

1. ABOUT LUNCH TIME

If there’s one change that needs to happen, the large, singular lunches attended by everyone need to end.

The amount of time wasted bussing everyone to one singular location for lunch is ridiculous. Both days in Estelí I waited over 45 minutes to eat as we waited for others to arrive. I don’t particularly care about the waiting to eat part, I do however care about whether that time means I am going to be able to visit one less factory in Estelí.

If one or two groups were late—two were running over an hour late on Friday—it holds up everyone. Then, you finally eat, and then an additional half hour or so is spent corralling everyone to get on busses.

Procigar has it figured out—let the factories host smaller lunches. Sure, it means you don’t get to see everyone at lunch, but it also provides a bit more intimate setting and saves at least an hour per day.

2. PERHAPS NO MORE GROUPS

But if you are going to change the lunches, you probably should change the selection of events.

At Procigar, individuals are able to pick what they want do each day. At Puro Sabor, you pick a group that determines what you will do for the entire festival. What’s more baffling, the groups weren’t even staying at the same hotel meaning even more time was wasted as busses moved from one place to another to pick up people: all three days.

If I had my choice, I would have chosen to go to the TAVICUSA farms and a combination of Plasencia Cigars S.A., STG Estelí or PENSA—three places I haven’t been to before. Instead, I chose the group with Plasencia, but was forced to go to My Father’s farms—which I toured last year—and TABOLISA, which I’ve been at for the last three years. It’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy visiting La Estrella and TABOLISA again, but they certainly wouldn’t have been first options.

My preferences counter one of the strongest arguments for the singular group idea: if we let people pick where they go each day, the Drew Estate and Padrón tours will be super popular, but who will sign up for PENSA and NACSA? I will, and so will many others.

It’s nice to visit a factory a couple times, but I think most would rather go visit a new factory than do the same tours each year.

3. ONE MORE DAY IN ESTELÍ

I think scrapping the Flor de Caña tour for another day in Estelí would be good. It could give people the option of waking up at 5 a.m. for a trip to the growing fields of Jalapa, the chance to visit some smaller factories and just walk around Estelí or perhaps something where attendees could volunteer for a social project. Having people visit cigar factories and fields for three days straight can be tiring, even for the most enthusiastic of people, but given that you don’t spend much time on the bus in Estelí, I think three slightly shorter days in the city would be much improved over a long day at Puro Sabor and two long days in Estelí.

I think mimicking the La Romana leg of Procigar, an optional laid back environment that most people choose not to attend in favor of just the Santiago portion, with a couple days in Grenada could solve the complaints about it being too cigar focused to bring spouses, although I can’t recall seeing anyone’s significant other that looked bored or burnt out on cigar visits after a few days.

Plasencia Cigars Bundles

I’m obviously for these changes, but I think the most important thing going forward is for Puro Sabor to find its voice. While copying some of the logistics and organizational layout of Procigar is beneficial, Puro Sabor needs its own traditions. I’d love to see a return to having more interaction with the local workers, perhaps a rolling competition at some of the nightly events—one with the local workers and one with the attendees themselves—maybe even a karaoke night with Pepín grading Guantanamera freestyles. Whatever it is, Nicaragua has more to offer.

I’m glad the changes this year weren’t massive. Many of the problems of years past were fixed and despite my issues described above, this year never felt chaotic, something I can’t say about the organization of the last two years. That being said, next year should see more than just incremental improvement in my opinion.

Nicaragua is one of the three most important cigar-producing countries. But Cuba and the Dominican Republic have much more established histories. People, even non-smokers, know about both countries’ cigar producing capabilities. That’s not the case with Nicaragua. It’s younger, rising rapidly, but still relatively young. Puro Sabor is also young, also on the rise, and much like the country—I think the festival’s best work is yet to come.

Disclosure: While I paid for my airfare, Puro Sabor/ANT picked up the cost of the festival including room and food. 

Charlie Minato

I am an editor and co-founder of halfwheel.com/Rueda Media, LLC. I previously co-founded and published TheCigarFeed, one of the two predecessors of halfwheel. I handle the editing of our written content, the majority of the technical aspects of the site and work with the rest of our staff on content management, business development and more. I’ve lived in most corners of the country and now entering my second stint in Dallas, Texas. I enjoy boxing, headphones, the Le Mans 24-hour, wearing sweatshirts year-round and gyros. echte liebe.