Day 1: Arrive Managua, Nicaragua
The adventure begins when you arrive at the Managua airport. Your first stop is at passport control where you pay the $10 entry fee and get your passport stamped. Then get your luggage and head through customs before entering the arrival terminal. Outside the door, the free shuttle to the Hotel Camino Real, or comparable, will take you from the airport for the 3-minute ride to the hotel where a room will be waiting for you. Surrounded by lush tropical gardens with an inviting pool, the hotel makes a nice place to rest and recover from the flight before starting your tour the next morning.
The group members will arrive separately into the Managua airport throughout the day. The rest of the night is on our own. Have dinner at the hotel’s Casablanca Restaurant, drinks at the hotel bar, or try your luck at the Casino next door.
Day 2: Wednesday
Today the tour really gets rolling with a full breakfast at the hotel before checking out and boarding the Blanco Tour Bus at 8:00 A.M. It’s an easy ride up the two-lane Pan-American Highway to the Nicaraguan town of Estelí.
Surrounded by mountains, Estelí gives the impression of a small agricultural town famous for its quality leather and beef, where a cowboy on horseback moving cattle down the streets is commonplace, and the people are hardworking and friendly. But a look at the names on some of the buildings tells the town’s secret. Home to dozens of cigar factories, Estelí is at the apex of the cigar world. In the heart of the city is the Hotel Los Arcos, or comparable, where we’ll be staying for the next 3 nights. We’ll have a quick minute to check-in before re-boarding the Bus and heading out for lunch. No cigar tour would be authentic if you weren’t enjoying a top notch “stick” while you did it, so as the bus gets rolling we’ll get our selection of Blanco Cigars. In cigar country, smoking is not only permitted, it’s encouraged, so enjoy!
To know cigars, you’ve got to know tobacco, and since tobacco starts in the fields, so shall we. A short drive to the outskirts of Estelí and the countryside is covered by tobacco farms and curing barns. With rich volcanic soil underfoot, the tour follows the life of a tobacco plant from seed to seedling, where it’s planted by hand in the fields, nurtured and cared for until it’s perfect to harvest. After harvesting, the leaves go to the curing barns where they’re watched and rotated. And with the tour of the farms complete, that’s exactly what we’ll do as the Bus heads back to Estelí and the hotel for the evening. Dinner’s on your own and there’s a variety of restaurants in town offering something for every taste or feel free to eat with David Blanco at one of the restaurants he likes to frequent. Later, there’ll be a rum & cigar evening at the hotel.
Day 3: Thursday
The morning starts as every work day starts in Estelí, with the echo of an air raid siren at 6:00 A.M. letting the hard working people of the town know it’s time to get their day started. But we’re on vacation, so we’ll have a leisurely morning with breakfast at the hotel before meeting on the Bus at 9:00 A.M. After a 10-minute drive from the hotel we’ll catch up with the tobacco from the fields as we arrive at the family cigar factory.
The Segovia cigar factory (where the Blanco family and their cousins the Plasencia family manufacture Blanco Cigars) fits the romantic image of a cigar factory perfectly. It’s colonial meets commercial, with lofty ceilings and a Spanish fountain in a garden courtyard with workers and materials moving about and every corner constantly buzzing with well-choreographed activity. Enclosed in its intimate walls is every process and procedure in a cigar’s life from start to shipping.
Just like on the farms, here there’s no machinery involved in working with tobacco. Everything is done by hand, a great many hands in fact. It’s been estimated that at least 100 pairs of hands are involved in the manufacturing process alone, with countless man-hours being consumed. That number seems incredible, until you actually see it. Tobacco leaves enter the factory to be sorted, then batched for fermentation in massive pilóns. The pilóns are rotated constantly by hand to ensure even fermentation for months before they’re passed on for sorting, processing, and reconditioning. Then, similar to a gourmet kitchen, the leaves are blended into recipes for each brand of cigar before heading to the rolling tables. With practiced precision the leaves are quickly and efficiently transformed into a nearly finished cigar. From the rolling floor, the almost finished cigars go into an enormous walk-in humidor for aging, then to packing where the bands are put on, and the now ready cigars are packed into the boxes. After seeing the time, labor, and skill that goes into making a cigar, you’ll have a new appreciation for every cigar you smoke.
Overwhelmed, amazed, and “geeking-out” by what we’ve just seen, we’ll retire to the Great Hall of the Segovia factory where Cuban sandwiches will be waiting for us for lunch. After lunch, the rolling table will be set out with dozens of varieties of aged tobacco. With the help of not only a master blender, but David Blanco himself, we will get a chance to create our own cigars. The right leaves will be pulled and taken to a master roller sitting next to the table who will then transform your tastes from imagination to reality as he rolls you your own custom made cigar. Smoke, eat, drink, enjoy. Then dinner on your own with the rest of the evening hours to enjoy. Feel like hitting the town? Just ask, David Blanco knows all the best spots and will be happy to show you around.
Day 4: Friday
Today is the “Longest Day.” It’ll be a quick, early breakfast as we board the Bus for a 7:00 A.M. prompt departure, because today we’re making a run for the border. It’s only 1 hour to the frontier where you must present your passport to customs and immigration. Keep $20 USD worth of crisp, un-damaged $1 and $5’s USD specifically to pay for the border crossing ($3 USD to exit and $7 USD to enter each country). After entering Honduras we’re 30 minutes from our first stop, the largest of the family’s factories, and one of the world’s largest as well.
What Segovia is to art, this Plasencia family cigar factory is to industry. The colonial feel and flavor has been replaced with assembly line efficiency under one massive roof, certainly a sight worth seeing. Next we tour the largest raw material facility in Central America. With the Segovia factory, where only a percentage of the facility was devoted to raw materials, this Plasencia family facility has building after building handling nothing but raw materials. As you tour, realize that you’re seeing a majority of the tobacco found in every cigar made in the world. We’ll stop for lunch at a café before continuing on to the next facility where the boxes are fabricated by hand and sent to the cigar factory for filling and shipping. Then it’s off to the second largest Plasencia family cigar factory on our tour where the rooms are larger and the brands of cigars to numerous to count.
With the tour of Honduras done, we’ll head back across the border to Nicaragua, arriving at Estelí in time for dinner on your own. It’s Friday night and Estelí comes out to play now that the workweek is done. Clubs, restaurants, and bars are all open and packed, so enjoy your last night in Nicaragua.
Day 5: Saturday
Today we say goodbye to Estelí. Have breakfast, pack-up, checkout, and be on the Bus for a 9:00 A.M. departure for the 1½-hour drive back to the Managua airport.
A valid U.S. passport is required to enter Nicaragua. Although there is a bilateral agreement that waives the six-month validity passport requirement, U.S. citizens are urged to ensure that their passports are valid for the length of their projected stay in the country before traveling. U.S. citizens must have an onward or return ticket and evidence of sufficient funds to support themselves during their stay. A visa is not required for U.S. citizens; however, a tourist card must be purchased for $5 upon arrival. Tourist cards are typically issued for 30 to 90 days. A valid entry stamp is required to exit Nicaragua. There is also a $32 departure tax. Many airlines include this tax in the price of the ticket. If the tax is not included in the ticket, payment can be made at the airline counter upon departure.
It’s better than you can imagine. The tobacco region is also known of its beef and vegetables and it is difficult to find a bad meal.
The national language is Spanish, although many residents of the Caribbean coastal areas also speak English and indigenous languages.
U.S. dollars are widely accepted throughout the country, and major credit cards are also typically accepted in hotels, restaurants, stores, and other businesses in urban and tourist areas. Bring small bills, no larger than $20, crisp, un-ripped (ripped bills won’t be accepted). ATM machines are available at banks in addition to some shopping centers and gas stations in urban and tourist areas where you can withdraw in local currency. Traveler’s checks are accepted at a few major hotels and may also be exchanged for local currency at authorized exchange facilities (“casas de cambio”). Visitors will also find enterprising individuals – ”Cambistas” – waving wads of cash in the street. Changing money in this fashion is not recommended.
Drinking tap water is not recommended in Nicaragua. All persons should drink only bottled water. Individuals traveling to Nicaragua should ensure that all their routine vaccinations are up to date. Vaccination against Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, rabies and typhoid is strongly recommended. A yellow fever vaccination is not required to enter Nicaragua unless the traveler has recently visited a country where yellow fever is endemic. Travelers taking prescription medications should bring an adequate supply with them when coming to Nicaragua. Many newer combination medications are not available in local pharmacies. Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747) or via the CDC’s web site at http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel/default.aspx. For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad consult the World Health Organization’s (WHO) web site at http://www.who.int/ith/en.
From Miami or Houston it is about a 2 hour flight.
Augusto C. Sandino International Airport in Managua (MGA) is serviced by TACA, Spirit Airlines, Continental, American, Delta, Copa, and Air Transat. The tour dates are based on your arrival at the Managua airport and your departure from the airport. You are responsible for making your own air reservations to and from MGA.
The climate is hot and humid, with the “summer” dry season running mid-November through mid-May and the “winter” rainy season running from mid-May through mid-November.
How many cigars can I bring home?
The duty-free exemption, also called the personal exemption, is the total value of merchandise you may bring back to the United States without having to pay duty. You may bring back more than your exemption, but you will have to pay duty on it. In most cases, the personal exemption is $800, but there are some exceptions to this rule. The following goods may be imported by visitors over 21 years of age into the USA without incurring customs duty: 200 cigarettes or 50 cigars or 2kg of smoking tobacco or proportionate amounts of each; 0.95l (1qt) of alcoholic beverage; gifts or articles up to a value of US$800.
Tip lightly, no more then a dollar for a meal or per night at the hotel. The local economy is unaccustomed to tourism and tipping heavily would cause problems for locals and future tourists alike. At the factories, don’t tip at all.
What’s the Blanco Tour Bus like?
We use a full size Toyota Hiace 12 passenger van (or similar) with air conditioning.
This isn’t the military or summer camp, this is a vacation and you deserve the best possible! All hotels are the best available, private rooms, en suite bathrooms, TV, air conditioning.
Currently we are scheduling group tours up to 8 people and customizing the dates. All tours run from Tuesday (DAY 1) to Saturday (DAY 5). If you are interested in scheduling a group tour, regardless of size, please contact our offices at: 727.535.1639. All tour attendees are responsible for booking their own flights to and from Managua, Nicaragua.
For those involved in a shop smoking club or cigar smoking organization, please have a group representative contact our offices to discuss scheduling.
Blanco Cigar Company
Prices in US Dollars (excludes air fare):
Cigar Tour (ground only)
Per person, group size of:
5 or less – $960.00 USD
6 – $900.00 USD
7 – $870.00 USD
8 – $840.00 USD
9 – $810.00 USD
10 – $780.00 USD