Honduras, the original “banana republic,” has been a tobacco source and cigar manufacturing region since at least 1765, when the Spanish crown established a royal tobacco trading post near Santa Rosa in Copan. This area is now a major coffee growing area, but tobacco and cigars are still an industry here. The Spanish stimulated the growth of the cigar trade here partly as a way to encourage settlement in the area. The northwest and western parts of Honduras are also home to a type of wild tobacco called “copaneco,” and it may be that this is what the natives, and perhaps the Spanish colonials, originally rolled into their cigars.
In addition to the Copan region, there are two other areas famous for tobacco cultivation and cigar manufacturing. The first and foremost is the area around Danli in El Paraiso. Danli is to Honduras what Esteli is to Nicaragua– the capital of the cigar business in their respective countries. Similarly, it could also be said that the Jamastran Valley is to Honduras what the Jalapa Valley is to Nicaragua. Jamastran and the surrounding areas are the primary locations for cigar tobacco cultivation in South Honduras.
More centrally located in the country is the third major cultivation area– the Talanga Valley in the Francisco Morazan provice, about a two hour drive northwest from Danli. Here tobacco is grown using the encallado method. Because Talanga is windy, tents are erected around the crop to protect the sun grown tobacco from wind damage. Rows of thick king grass are also grown around the tobacco plots as additional protection. This is typically why cigar tobacco, especially sun grown tobacco, is grown in valleys — the natural barrier helps to protect the delicate leaves from the wind.
The major players in Honduras, like those in Nicaragua, arrived here as Cuban exiles. By the time of the U.S. embargo, Honduras had a head start over Nicaragua because the government had been sponsoring growth in the development of cigar companies. This advantage was offset by an almost complete lack of infrastructure in Honduras; roads being one of the major amenities missing here. But Honduras was given another boost when the Sandinistas took over in 1979. Just as Central America benefited from the Cuban revolution, so did Honduras benefit from Nicaragua’s coup as tobacco farmers and cigar rollers emigrated to Honduras for work.
The similarity of the regions of Jalapa in Nicaragua and Jamastran in Honduras made this transition an easy one. Both have been described as very similar to the Pinar del Rio region of Cuba, by people who certainly know their business. And in the same way that Nicaraguan cigars were made to satisfy the American market for Cuban cigars left vacant by the embargo, Honduras tried to do the same thing. Heavyweight and serious cigars with a good bite became the goal for at least some producers.
Among these, the most successful have been the Plasencias, the Eiroas of Camacho Cigars, Frank Llaneza and Estelo Padron of HATSA (Villazon), and Rolando Reyes of Puros Indios. All of these men and their families are major players on the Honduran cigar scene, blending cigars that are unique and emblematic of Honduran flavor.
The types of cigar tobacco grown in Honduras are mostly Cuban seed. In fact, a test crop grown with Cuban seed smuggled into Honduras by Juan Bermejo became the basis for a great deal of the cigar tobacco grown in Central America after the revolution. Both Cuban criollo and shade grown corojo are cultivated for their strong heady flavor. Both require careful fermentation and curing to mellow the tobacco.
Connecticut shade is also grown for wrapper, sometimes called “Honduran Shade.” But most interesting to me is the “true corojo” being grown by the Eiroa family for their Camacho Corojo cigars. Corojo is named for the Cuban farm on which it was first cultivated by the Rodriguez family. The Eiroas obtained some of the original seed from the Corojo farm and now grow it in the Jamastran Valley. It is a delicate tobacco, extremely vulnerable to blue mold (which is why the genetically pure variety is no longer grown in Cuba) but the Eiroas have been successful with it in Honduras. The Camacho Corojo is also one of my favorite cigars.
Honduran cigars tend to be heavy, full bodied smokes. My recommendations for the cigar novice are that you start with lighter cigars from the Domincan Republic and work your way up to the Nicaraguans and Hondurans. There are lighter bodied Hondurans, of course, but he best ones exhibit the rich leathery flavor you’ll be looking for in full bodied smokes. Among my current favorites are Villazon’s El Rey del Mundo and Punch Gran Puro, as well as the Camacho Corojo and Havana lines. Rocky Patel’s Indian Tabac and Vintage lines, as well as Rolando Reyes’ Puros Indios are also favorites in the medium-bodied range.