When Christopher Columbus and his merry band dropped anchor for the first time in the “New World” in 1492, they found the the Taínos and Arawaks of Hispaniola (now two-thirds occupied by the Dominican Republic) smoking some funny kinda dried brown leaves. And the DR has been a tobacco producer ever since – yet for much of that time, for reasons of history and economics, cigarwise it’s been overshadowed by Cuba, turning out mostly fodder for cigarettes.
The tide started shifting when the new Castro régime in Cuba chased many of the country’s top cigar makers out of the country in the early and mid 1960s. A good number of these ended up in the DR with their expertise and seeds for the tobacco variety piloto cubano, followed in the late 1970s and early 1980s by refugees from the Sandinista revolution in Nicaragua.
All that, along with a gradual decline in the quality of Cuban cigars, have led to a robust tobacco and cigar industry based in the Cibao and Yaque valleys, up in the interior highlands near around the country’s second-largest city,Santiago de los Caballeros. Major factories and brands include Arturo Fuente (perhaps the best known), La Aurora, Davidoff, La Flor Dominicana, and La Gloria Cubana. And along the way, many cigar experts and aficionados agree the quality of the stogies has in fact risen to the equal of and sometimes superior to Cuba’s. Furthermore, for more than a decade the DR has also been turning out its own puros (“pures,” because they’re made purely from homegrown tobacco, as opposed to using imported leaf for outer wrappers).
If you're in country – for example, at a resort but looking for an interesting day trip, more than a dozen cigar producers welcome visitors, including Matasa in Santiago; León Jimenes outside Santiago (above); Los Maestros in Tamboril, Doña Dorada in San Pedro de Macoris (a good double-header for baseball fans); and Las Palmas/Tabacalera de García in La Romana (top,) the world’s largest handmade cigar factory.
So, when in the Dominican Republic, it’s definitely “play smokey for me.”
(To learn more about Cuban cigars, check out my post here.)
Photo | Miguel González