On a road just past the city center of Danlí, Honduras lies a colorful building that is sorely out of place. The Davidoff of Geneva USA marketing team would prefer this is where a reference of “home of the bold” gets used, but if anything, the Diadema Cigars de Honduras S.A. is “built bright.”
In 2013, Camacho underwent the most extensive portfolio makeover the cigar industry has ever seen. The brand’s entire image from packaging to marketing was redone, lines were discontinued, and behind-the-scenes, the company was planning a similar project regarding how its cigars were made.
Oettinger Davidoff AG purchased the Camacho brand and factory from the Eiroa family in 2008 and for a handful of years, things remained the same. There were separate Camacho salespeople and separate Camacho production facilities. Christian Eiroa stayed on as the company’s president for a few years and there was a 10-year agreement to purchase tobacco from the Eiroa family farms, which Davidoff did not purchase.
That agreement wasn’t renewed, and in 2015, Davidoff announced that it would be constructing a new ground-up facility to produce Camacho cigars. It’s located on the outskirts of Danlí, a short 10-minute drive from the Rancho Jamastran factory that Camacho called home for decades—and it’s impossible to miss.
The 185,000-square-foot factory encompasses two separate buildings, each two stories. A small walkway between the administrative building in front and the massive production area is the only thing that’s small about the place. And while some of the machinery inside is decades old, most of the factory is quite modern—and not just for cigar factory standards.
I was invited to go down to Camp Camacho to see the facilities, but also as a Guinea pig. While Davidoff formally relaunched Camp Camacho this year, it was clear during my visit in late March that the company is still ironing out details, including finalizing the look of the new 8,600-square-foot house built for cigar tourism.
Camp Camacho was started by the Eiroas at their sprawling facility, which I visited earlier this year. It was the original cigar tourism program; well before Drew Estate’s Cigar Safari was introducing cigar manufacturing to consumers and bloggers, Camacho was doing it in a jungle setting in Honduras. Davidoff didn’t purchase that property either and it’s now known as Camp Aladino.
Mike Baca (R) and Fernando Romero (L) of UR New York pose in front of the Camp Camacho logo, which they painted shortly before I arrived.
Regrettably, I didn’t photograph much, or really any, of the new house. But I will say this: it’s far and away the nicest cigar tourism facility I’ve stayed in. (I’ve not stayed in the Debonaire House or Rocky Patel’s new house in Honduras, but I’ve heard great things about both.)
There was a clear intent of this not being another cigar trip, something I think the company might have pushed slightly too far. I didn’t mind the overload of Camacho branding. Each room is themed after a different brand, for example, I stayed in a teal-colored room styled after the Camacho Ecuador. It’s typical for guests to be given some branded apparel and a nice bag of cigars, but Camp Camacho provides branded backpacks, complete with branded utility tools and even branded soap and hand sanitizer.
— Charlie Minato (@charlieminato) March 24, 2018
The Camacho branding overload is cohesive and well done. It has branded bedding, including memory foam pillows, the first time I’ve experienced that anywhere in Central America, let alone next to a cigar factory. There might be Camacho-branded soap, but the bathrooms are nice enough that they would fit in well at a decent American hotel. Statues of scorpions, the brand’s de facto mascot, accent the common area nicely. And there are bright pillows designed to match the colors of various brands that sit on custom furniture in the main room.
In addition to the branding around the house, there was some serious effort involved in the swag and take-home items from Camp Camacho. The backpack includes what you would expect: t-shirts, a multi-use tool, hat, the aforementioned soap, etc. But the backpack itself is actually nice enough that I’m sure someone will opt to use it regularly. In addition, the cigars that visitors blend as part of a blending seminar are not only banded with custom bands, but presented in an actual Camp Camacho box.
One of the attempts to make this not just a cigar trip was to go ziplining in La Tigra National Park. While I had a blast ziplining high up in the Honduran rainforest, I don’t think it should remain as part of the trip. Unfortunately, getting to La Tigra required two-hour long car rides each way and the hike to get to the ziplining stage is probably pushing the physical limits of an oftentimes not so in shape cigar crowd.
It also doesn’t really fit in with a cigar trip. As someone that was just in Honduras, it was certainly enjoyable for me. But most attendees of Camp Camacho probably want to go to Honduras to see cigars, not trees. My hope is that Camacho removes it from the standard four-day trip and considers adding a longer, more intense trip. I think with some pacing and adjustments, it could work. And it really is spectacular.
The real downside to La Tigra wasn’t felt until the next day, when the entire group was collectively worn out for a busy day visiting both tobacco fields and the factory.
It started at Finca La Merced, an 81-acre farm the company purchased in 2015. The farm is located about 45 minutes from the factory and grows criollo 98, corojo 99 and the corojo the company is known for.
The Eiroas built their name—and that of Camacho’s—off corojo and it’s something they both separately are trying to continue to build today. For whatever it’s worth—despite some fairly notable incidents a few years ago—I’m not sure that the two companies, particularly in the case of Juilo Eiroa, are making cigars that taste very similar. Regardless, both the Eiroas and Camacho are eager to claim their use of “authentic corojo.” For reference, Daniel Rodriguez, a Cuban farmer who ran a farm called El Corojo, is credited with bringing the seed to Honduras after the Cuban Revolution of the 1960s.
Everyone does things a bit differently, even if the process and the outcome is largely the same: plant seeds, harvest tobacco, roll cigars. As such, I definitely was reminded of processes the Eiroa family is doing an hour away on their farms and what Davidoff does at the farms it operates in the Dominican Republic.
As with pretty much every decent size growing operation, La Merced is also experimenting, in this case with a bit of Connecticut-seed tobacco. Production of Indonesian wrapper has been declining and as such, machine-made cigar companies in Europe have begun buying a lot more Connecticut shade wrapper. That means the supply of Connecticut shade is decreasing and prices have skyrocketed—as such, farms like this are trying to fill the need.
I’m not entirely sure where the origins of Diadema Cigars lie. You can see the similarities between the three Dominican factories operated by Davidoff in Villa Gonzales, there are some traces of the old Camacho and then there’s retinal eye scanners and bright t-shirts.
It makes sense. After some trial and error of running the old Camacho factory on its own, while also trying to build the new factory, Davidoff brought in Manuel Batista, a veteran of the company’s Dominican factories, to run its growing Honduran operation.
Batista is very much a product of the venerated Davidoff system in the Dominican. He led a blending seminar that mirrored the one given countless time by Hendrik “Henke” Kelner, only we were smoking Camacho Connecticut, not Davidoff Puro d’Oro.
The massive rolling gallery at Diadema is a gigantic version of the ones seen at Cigars Davidoff or O.K. Cigars. It includes a Honduran version of my singular favorite thing I’ve ever witnessed in a cigar factory. Davidoff’s Dominican production chief and blender, Eladio Diaz, is legendary for his attention to detail. I once watched him spend 20 minutes sitting at the front of O.K. Cigars—where AVO and others are rolled—inspecting cigars that had already passed inspection by the floor supervisors. He did it with an incredible rate of speed and precision, and he was able to find errors in the work of the supervisors who worked below him.
That process is mirrored in Honduras. Two employess—the above is Francisco Vásquez—sat at a table in the middle of the factory going through bundle after bundle of cigars that had come from the floor. For me, it’s a symphony of movement. Every action is deliberate and precise, and then repeated. I spent ten minutes watching and photographing the process and Vásquez didn’t look up—or down—once.
There aren’t too many factories you can fly a drone through, but the upstairs of the Camacho factory is one of them. Cigar companies have a way of tricking visitors into thinking they are operating at capacity. Move the tables a foot inward from the wall, add four extra inches between the rows and a cigar factory can look a lot busier. With 160 pairs, the rolling gallery at Camacho is busy, but it’s likely the company can double the amount of production without having to knock down a single wall.
Camacho’s role in the U.S. market is quite different than it was in 2013. It’s grown to be the largest brand in the company’s portfolio in terms of the number of cigars sold in the U.S., surpassing both the eponymous Davidoff brand and AVO.
George “Latin Thunder” Rami, Camacho’s brand ambassador, serves as your tour guide at Camp Camacho.
I look to return to Camp Camacho. While the farm, factory and house are quite polished, the cigar tourism part has work to do, though it’s a series of small changes. The infrastructure is there for Camp Camacho to once again join Drew Estate’s Cigar Safari and Rocky Patel’s Honduras trips as the prominent cigar tourism programs in the industry and that’s important, not just for Camacho, but also the legacy of Camp Camacho.
As much as Davidoff has tried, rightfully, to separate itself from the Eiroas, Camp Camacho was an impressive accomplishment. It was the original cigar tourism program, probably one of the two or three most visited programs in history, even despite its dormancy for the last handful of years. Its legacy is likely greater than any other as well; countless retailers and even many manufacturers like Sam Leccia first learned cigars at Camp Camacho. The door—both metaphorically and physically—is once again open for that to happen, and the cigar industry is a better place for that.
If we’ve learned anything from the modern Davidoff, it is that they will do things right. I suspect by early next year, Camp Camacho will be another entry on the ever-growing list of things the company has successfully remade.
Disclosure: Davidoff of Geneva USA paid for my airfare and lodging. The company also advertises on halfwheel.