Here is some hopefully helpful information that can help you better understand the Dominican Republic and how to enjoy some cigars wherever in the country you’ll be visiting, as well as some activities to accompany your smoking or to please anyone traveling with you who may not enjoy cigars as much as you do. For starters don’t buy any cigars from any beach or street vendors especially at premium prices they are all counterfeits. If the prices seem too good to be true at any shop or even hotel, it is, because of the Free Trade Zones don’t go there expecting incredible deals on your smokes you more then likely won’t find them. If you have a particular factory you want to see it’s best to contact them directly, and schedule things before your trip, not all the factories are readily available to accept visitors or are tourist friendly. The places where tobacco and cigars are readily available don’t always correspond to the biggest tourist attractions so here are some major cities and the best options for cigars, factory and plantation tours.
Santiago – The unofficial second capital of the country which has its own international airport should be on the agenda of anybody making cigars a priority on their trip. Located in northern half of the country, situated in the Cibao valley between two mountain ranges this is where the country’s most fertile soil is and therefore most tobacco and cigar production is centered on this region. There are no shortages of factories, though the biggest one and most popular ones are located in Free Trade Zones or Zona Francas and therefore do not offer public tours and you cannot purchase cigars at those factories because they are for export only. There are still plenty of options though. The most popular and most tourist friendly of these is La Aurora. The parent company of La Aurora, Leon Jimenes has created the Centro Leon cultural center in the middle of downtown Santiago for all visitors to come and enjoy. They have exhibits showing local art and historic artifacts from the D.R. but you can also find their most experienced rollers making their Preferidos line of cigars right on the premise. You can light up the cigars you buy right there and enjoy them with some food and a Presidente beer which the Leon Jimenes company brews. There is also El Museo del Tabaco, the Tobacco Museum in Parque Duarte, where you can learn about the history of tobacco and cigars in D.R. and they have a gift shop full of cigars as well. Even though the Arturo Fuente factory is in the free trade zone their famous Chateau De La Fuente, where the OpusX wrapper are grown is actually located two provinces away in the city of Bonao, just a short drive away from Santiago you can actually arrange a tour of the plantation and you can learn to pair cigars with Dominican rums. If you have time you can visit the towns of Tamboril or Villa Gonzalez a few minutes outside of the city, where a lot of the mid-tier factories that are still familiar in the U.S. are located like, La Flor Dominicana, Augusto Reyes, Pinar Del Rio, and Felipe Gregorio just to name a few, although they are much easier to access and to purchase from then the ones in Santiago’s Free Trade Zone, most of these factories aren’t suited to handle large groups of tourist and tours should be set up directly with the manufactures beforehand. You also have the options of visiting the more obscure factories for locals and tourists trying to find something unique like Flor de Gurabo, Don Esteban, Anillo de Oro, Los Maestros, and William Ventura. Aside from tobacco and cigars the city of Santiago is the second biggest metropolitan area behind the capital, it’s the birthplace of the countries most popular music styles and musicians and there are no shortages of shows, restaurants, bars, nightclubs, museums, monuments that are all welcoming to tourist. The oldest rum distiller Bermudez is based in the city and they offer public tours so you can enjoy some native rum with your stogies. The only downside is, because it’s in the valley and isolated from the countries coasts, there are no beaches or ports which mean you won’t get a traditional Caribbean tropical experience and cruise ships won’t take you there.
Puerto Plata – Located on the North Coast of the country is accessible through its international airport and port. This is one of the biggest cities in the country and home to a large number of resorts and famous beaches. Puerto Plata isn’t big on tobacco it’s on the other side of the mountain that borders the Cibao valley and therefore not a lot of agricultural activity. They do have a few small factories just for tourists in the area like PuPla Cigars. There are small cafes in the area where you can buy some good cigars and enjoy them with a meal and coffee like Café Cito and Café Cubano. While the options for cigars are few in the city they have the beaches and resorts that Santiago doesn’t have and it’s only 2 hours away from the city of Santiago so if you have the time you can visit a factory in Santiago and come back in Puerto Plata just a few hours later. The Brugal factory, the Dominicans most popular rum is there and is open for tours. They have an Amber factory, with lots of jewelry in the gift shops, a five hundred year old colonial fort, the oldest church in the Americas, and aerial tramway on top of all the many beaches.
Samaná – This is a very small city located on the North Coast as well but its own newly open airport, as well as the port keeps it busy with people on cruises. The Los Haitises National Park, many cays and whales that breed in the Samaná Bay make it a popular with eco-tourist. There are no real factories here but there is a cigar shop in Las Terrenas called Mundo Puro where you can sample 14 different kinds of rum and different cigars plus their own house blend. If you’re feeling up to it you can take a 3 hours ride over to Santiago it’s not the easiest ride but if you have the time it’s worth it.
La Romana – Now on the southeastern end of the island is La Romana a town with a lot of commercial ports and business headquarters. There are also a number of beaches and resort complexes that make it very popular with tourist the most famous of these is the Casa de Campo. The owners of the complex build the Tabacalera de Garcia, the only major factory outside of the Cibao, near the resort for all to enjoy. It is the largest cigar factory in the world and it’s where they make all Dominican Altadis products. They offer tours for free to anyone staying at the Casa de Campo or as low as 10 dollars to anyone else. Altadis also opened a Montecristo Lounge where you can enjoy the cigars from the factory and a drink located in the Altos de Chavon, a recreated medieval village close to the resort. Aside from the lounge there are also a bunch of local artisans selling crafts and an amphitheater there. Jose Seijas former vice president of Altadis, and Litto Gomez of La Flor Dominicana are planning on opening a factory in La Romana set to open September of 2012 catering to tourist in La Romana. Litto Gomez is planning on moving production of his Air Bender line of cigars over to the new factory where guests can watch them roll them in front of them, Jose Seijas plans to make other cigars under New World Cigars and open up a shop stocked with all kinds of Dominican cigars. For those that enjoy golf with there cigars there are also plenty of golf courses at the resorts like the Teeth of The Dog. Going to Santiago from here is a long trip so if you’re not willing to stay overnight in Santiago before coming back or getting a short flight over there, the options above are the few choices.
Punta Cana – Further east of La Romana is the resort town of Punta Cana, this is the most popular city with visiting tourists. Outside of the resort complexes and everything they have to offer you find much in the city it’s a very desolate area with nothing of particular interest. There are however a few small cigar factories and shops set up specifically for visitors to the resorts, most of them offer transportation to and from the hotels. There is Don Lucas, Domenico, La Reina, Baldwin, Lucas de Meester, and De Leon Cigars. Most of them will offer you some rum and cigars you can watch the rollers work and La Reina also has a jewelry shop. As noted before it’s a long trip from here to Santiago but La Romana and the factories there are a short ride away if you have the time.
Santo Domingo – The nation’s capital and largest city with a major airport and busy port is the most accessible city in the country. At the southern end of the country it is nowhere near the tobacco lands of the north, but there are still a few options for those staying in the capital. The small factories there include Don Guillermo, Galiano, Abam and Juliany. The city also has plenty cigar shops that are reputable and carry cigars from all over the world, just be careful as there are also many selling counterfeits, prices at the legitimate places won’t be a bargain but not eye gouging. Santo Domingo has everything every metropolis has, monuments, restaurants, big nightlife and shopping centers, and even a rum museum, no beaches in the city proper but they are not far away. Santiago and the Cibao are fairly far from the capital, but La Romana is an hour away and Punta Cana not much further if you want to make the trips there.
As I said before with all the Free Trade Zones it’s difficult to tour the major factories and get cigars there, but it’s not impossible. ProCigar is a group of the major cigarmakers in the Dominican Republic that help maintain quality, set standards and guidelines for cigarmakers coming out of the country. The members include General Cigar, Altadis, Quesada, Davidoff, Augusto Reyes, La Aurora, Tabaquisa, and Arturo Fuente just rejoined. Every year in February they host a festival complete with seminars, lectures, plantation visits, and tours of all the members’ factories, along with dinners and different leisure activities and all the cigars you can smoke.
Hope this helps some of you enjoy your vacations that much more.