Travel Cuba: The Shopping Forecast

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Journey to the source: Cuban cigars

"A woman is only a woman," claimed a thoroughly politically incorrect Rudyard Kipling, "but a good cigar is a smoke." Cuba is claimed to be the source of the best cigars in the world, and the Travellers Survival Kit: Cuba (Vacation Work, pounds 9.99) gives useful tips on buying - and selling - the precious smokes.

In Havana there is a well-established black market in cigars, and people approach you in the street offering to do business. Such transactions are probably best avoided as the quality of the cigars is highly variable: one may taste like heaven, another like rags dipped in turpentine.

A beautifully wrapped and sealed box is not without its perils either: one tourist returned home to find that he had bought a large stone and a few tatty panatellas.

Even non-smoking travellers can subsidise their visit to Cuba by taking home their duty-free limit (50 cigars) and selling them at a substantial profit. The best tour of a cigar factory in Cuba is at the Palacio de Tabaco, right next to the Museum of the Revolution, in central Havana, which also has an excellent shop.

Try to go for the biggest and best-known (and make sure that the box has not been opened). Previous visitors have made good profits with Esplendidos (Cohiba) or Romeo y Julieta Churchills. A box of 25 can be bought for about $50 ($20 on the black market), and would cost pounds 585 or pounds 325 respectively in the UK from The Havana Club, 165 Sloane Street, London SW1 (0171-245 0890) - potentially enough profit for a week's holiday in Havana. If you are an aficionado, you might like to contact Special Places (01892 661157), which runs specialist cigar tours to Cuba.