A Natural Cigar Humidor

Honduras may have enacted tough new no-smoking legislation in 2010, but that hasn't dampened enthusiasm for one of its best-known exports.

Honduras’s cigar industry has its roots in the Cuban Revolution of 1959, when many tobacco entrepreneurs there fled the Castro regime with a few seeds from which to start a new crop and a new life. Like Cuba’s neighbor the Dominican Republic, Honduras welcomed the new businesses and new product with open arms, and the quality of Honduran tobacco is likened to that of Cuba’s product. Between Honduras and the Dominican Republic, it’s been a battle ever since to gain market share in the United States where Cuban cigars have been illegal because of the U.S. trade embargo. Dominican cigars have traditionally slightly edged out their Honduran counterparts. (Those in the know suggest that Honduran cigars are slightly—but only slightly—stronger than Dominican ones.)

The countryside around Danlí is one of Honduras’s two tobacco-producing regions; Santa Rosa de Copán in the western highlands is the other . Both areas compare favorably to Cuba’s Pinar del Río region, the heart of that island nation’s industry. Danlí’s Jamastrán Valley enjoys average daytime temperatures of 75 degrees and a 75-percent relative humidity, essentially mimicking the conditions inside a cigar humidor.

That said, the industry here has been hit by the double whammy of the world economic downturn—cigars are discretionary spending for consumers, after all—and Honduras’s 2009 political crisis. (“Triple whammy” might be a better description: changing attitudes about smoking have undoubtedly played a role, too.) A few of the manufacturers in town have scaled back operations but they hope to gear back up once the economy looks bright again.

Of the plants in Danlí that are still going strong, two welcome visitors to their installations: Plasencia and Tabacaleras Unidas. (We know: It’s smoking, and that entails a whole host of issues. But the process of making cigars is fascinating to observe.) Given the vastly different sizes of the two factories, the tours at each have a much different feel.

Oh, and one final point . . . a little vocabulary lesson: In Spanish, a cigar is a puro. A cigarro is a cigarette.

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