Just like pilgrims sally forth to Mecca at least once in their lifetimes, to Rome during Holy Week, or to Tibet with its monasteries and sacred palaces that nearly scrape the clouds, the first days of every year turn Havana, the lovely capital of the Caribbean, into a very special pilgrimage place that lures visitors from many parts of the world just to worship God Habano. The occasion is no other than the Habano Festival.

This gathering is, by its own right, the world’s most important powwow devoted to Habanos. From every nook and cranny of the planet, the faithful lovers of the ultimate smoke, businesspeople, CEOs from the tobacco industry, execs from the successful Habano Houses scattered all around the globe, and the rich and famous of the big screen and literature flock to Cuba. And even a handful of political figures from the north try to go unnoticed to get around the travel ban imposed by the U.S. government on its own citizens that bars them from hopping to the Caribbean island nation to enjoy the wafting billows of aromatic smoke given off by a genuine Habano, or just sipping at a daiquiri or a mojito at El Floridita or La Bodeguita del Medio –the favorite hangouts of great American writer Ernest Hemingway- or just from dancing to the beat of salsa at the Tropicana Cabaret, “a paradise under the stars.”

The Havana conclave opens a window of opportunity to take a closer look at Habano brands, at the pleasant novelties the Cuban market launches every year, and the magnificent humidors –genuine artworks carved by talented Cuban artisans and artists. It’s also a once-in-a-lifetime chance to sign up for the traditional closing-day auction, an event always full of surprises, or to admire works of art in which the Habano is the star of the show. Last but not least, the meeting in Havana makes wiggle room for businesspeople to make negotiations, ink contracts, visit tobacco plantations, tour cigar factories where well-known brands are made, and something very important: a chance to get in touch with today’s Cuban reality, with the friendly and warmhearted inhabitants of the largest Caribbean island.

This special issue of Excelencias magazine entirely covering the 9th Habano Festival and the great Cuban cigar is the result of a fruitful collaboration between the Excelencias Group and Habanos S.A. In its pages, you will find an array of attractive topics linked to God Habano. Dear readers, we hope this trip to Havana, your hands-on participation in the event and the thorough reading of these pages will turn you into just another pilgrim, thus making this journey to the Caribbean a new place to meet and feel pleasure at the early going of every year. Welcome!

Jose Carlos de Santiago