Leaf & Bean | Strip District


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"Nicaragua Leaf & Bean Strip Trip"
January 22nd to January 30th 2013

Nicaragua Leaf and Bean in the Strip January 2013 Tour Granada and Esteli

In today's shrinking planet few countries can boast such an authentic character and culture as Nicaragua. Nicaragua's unjustly negative image has ironically served to preserve its charm from the hordes of mass tourism. In addition, the legendary hospitality of the Nicaraguans is obvious to all who visit today and has been noted by visitors to Nicaragua for more than five centuries. Only the most jaded of traveler will not feel the warmth of the Nicaraguan people.

Nicaragua has unique forms of dance, music and festivals, but most of all Nicaragua's culture breaths poetry, the unrivaled national passion, which has produced some of the most important poets in the history of the Spanish language. Nicaragua's food is amongst the finest in Latin America with a premium put on fresh ingredients and generous servings. In addition to the numerous fresh fruits that one expects in the tropics, grilled meats and fresh fish are complimented by local made cheeses, vine-ripened vegetables, hand made tortillas, fruit drinks, local beers and Nicaragua's famously smooth rum.

Many travel to the tropics to see its rich flora and fauna. Nicaragua is just now being discovered as a land of great nature reserves. The nature is nothing new it has just been a well kept secret. The two largest forest reserves in Central America are found in Nicaragua and they are part of 78 national nature reserves that cover 21,000 km2, more than 18% of its landmass. The reserves protect a diverse portfolio of ecosystems, flora and fauna. Biodiversity in Nicaragua is so rich that animals are not only found in parks and distant reserves, but even greater Managua is still home to howler monkeys, deer, iguanas, toucans and parrots.

What makes Nicaragua land most distinct is its dramatic geography marked by lakes and volcanoes. The thorny spine of volcanoes that run from Nicaragua's northwestern-most point to the dual-volcano island of Ometepe in the great lake of Nicaragua includes countless beautiful cones, 14 of which are filled with crystal clear crater lakes and 7 of which are active. Nicaragua numerous lakes and rivers include Central America's biggest Lake Nicaragua, which is punctuated by more than 500 volcanic islands that support unique wildlife and hide ancient indigenous relics.

Nicaragua's rich combination of warm, authentic culture and diverse nature and geography make it a treasure for travelers. The fact that Nicaragua has not been overrun by tourists means that it is a place where the visitor can enjoy both the nature and culture of Nicaragua at a relaxed pace and in a unique environment.

Experience the beauty of Nicaragua.

Popular Beverages of Nicaragua!

"Flor De Cana" - Rum

Flor de Cana, Rum.  From humble roots dating back to 1890 at the San Antonio Sugar Mill, in Chichigalpa, Nicaragua, Flor de Caña has grown to be Central America's leading brand of rum. The traditions and the heritage of the company have remained unchanged over the decades. Today the fifth generation of the Pellas family continues to guide the Compañia Licorera de Nicaragua with their commitment to expert craftsmanship, the finest natural ingredients, and the unique slow-aging process which sets Flor de Caña rums apart. So go ahead, indulge your taste for history. Savor the Heritage.  

The National Drink of Nicaragua 


The Nicaraguan drink is famous with the name of macua. The name was derived from the native tropical bird to Nicaragua. This cocktail consists of fruit juices and white rum. The commonly used juices are guava and lemon juice. This drink has got the stature of national drink in the country. Dr Edmundo Miranda Saenz was the creator of the drink. 

1 1/2 oz. Flor de Cana Gold Label Rum 
1 oz. Guava Juice (more Guava Juice drinks)
1 oz. Orange Juice (more Orange Juice drinks)
1/2 oz. Lemon Juice (more Lemon Juice drinks)
1/3 oz. Simple Syrup (more Simple Syrup drinks)

"Tona Cerveza" - Beer

Cereza of choice.  Tona Cerveza is produced by Compania Cervecera de Nicaragua. CCN has been producing top quality beer since 1926 and is one of the most technologically advanced brewers in the Americas. Tona Cerveza is the #1 selling beer in Nicaragua. Using 100% natural ingredients, Tona is a smooth tasting premium lager. The exceptionally balanced flavor and rich body are sure to satisfy even the most demanding tastes.

Cigars of Nicaragua

I can't remember how many times over the years I've told inquiring minds that there are better cigars coming out of Nicaragua than Cuba. Certainly, Cuban cigars have their place, but when you look at most of the non-Cuban cigars that are getting the high scores and word-of-mouth referrals, it's the Nicaraguan cigars that stand out. 

One of the reasons for this is Nicaragua's climate (remarkably close to Cuba's), and its rich, black soil. Moreover, Nicaraguan tobacco has a character and strength so distinctive, it's been used for years by manufacturers in The Dominican Republic, Honduras, and even Cuba, allegedly, to add more power to their blends. It's also one of the reasons Nicaragua produces such great tasting puros, or cigars made with leaves all from one country.

Granada Nicaragua

Founded by the Spanish in 1523, Granada has a number of antiquated ornate churches and old Spanish-style buildings that date back to the colonial period. It is sometimes called 'The Great Sultana' in recognition of its beautiful colonial architectural heritage. Even though it was badly damaged during the mid-1850s whilst being captured by the American William Walker, it is still a popular city and is one of the country's main destinations for international travelers.

Situated less than 30 km from the country's international airport, Granada is an excellent starting point for visiting some of the Nicaragua's main attractions. These attractions include viewing some of the active volcanoes in the area, enjoying a visit to a cloud forest ecosystem – something somewhat unique to the area – or enjoying some of the many beaches lapped by the Pacific Ocean. You can also take in the natural beauty of Lake Cocibolca or spend time amongst nature enjoying natural wonders such as the annual sea turtle egg-laying. Granada is at the center of it all!

When you're not out and about enjoying the wonders of nature, you can spend time discovering the city. Like most colonial cities in this part of the world, the whole metropolis is built around a main square known as Parque Central. This is really Granada's social, cultural and economic hub. It is in and around Parque Central that you will find Granada's cathedral, city hall, cultural centers, banks and hundreds of small shops and stalls which are dedicated to the sale of traditional food and hand crafted goods – the perfect place to get some mementoes of your trip. To the west of the main square, you will find the central market – great for fresh fruit, vegetables, fish, cheese and meat.

You may also make your way down 'La Calzada' Avenue, which is flanked by large colonial houses known as "casonas" and interesting churches. It ends on the lakeshore of Nicaragua Lake where you will find a beautiful boulevard for pleasant evening strolls. You will also find the 'Centro Turistico' here, where you can enjoy restaurants, beaches and discos. Most of the attractions can be reached on foot and are most enjoyable.

Dona Elba Cigar Factory

A local favorite of mine is Dona Elba Cigars, where you can sit and relax watch "Blanca" make cigars and enjoy a fresh rolled cigar with some Flor De Cona Rum!

"Jennyfer" owner of Dona Elba Cigars and "Island Jim" enjoying a day at Dona Elba.

Lake Nicaragua

Nicaragua’s largest lake has several names: the indigenous tribes called it Cocibolca, the Spanish conquerors named it La Mar Dulce (the Sweet Sea), the people from Granada call it Lake Granada and it is nowadays generally known as Lake Nicaragua. The lake has a surface of 8,264 km², and it is located in the central southern part of the country. The oval-shaped lake is relatively uncontaminated, although some serious environmental issues pose a real threat for the lake’s future. Below follows an overview of some of the lake’s most interesting aspects, including its natural beauty, unique inhabitants, and ecological threats.

Monkey Island

Tourists can take a trip around and between these fascinating islands by boat. Of particular interest is Monkey Island - a small island inhabited by colonies of monkeys. 

The monkeys were apparently pets that were abandoned on the island by their owners. The colony has increased dramatically over the years and currently it is not known how many monkeys are on the island.

The majority of the island’s inhabitants are capuchin monkeys who get their name from their distinctive coloring which is said to resemble the cowls worn by the Catholic friars known as Franciscan Capuchin. The capuchin monkey has a black or brown body, arms, legs and tail. Its face, throat and chest are white or light beige and it has a black or brown patch on its head that looks like a monks cap. They seldom weigh more than two kilograms. Capuchins are omnivores and enjoy a varied diet, eating anything from fruit and nuts, to spiders and bird eggs. Those living near water are fond of eating shellfish and crabs, using stones to crack their shells.

The monkeys have become accustomed to tourists showing an interest in them and get very excited if food is offered. Visitors are often advised by their tour guide to take along some oranges or bananas to lure the monkeys to the water’s edge. But this is not really necessary, because as soon as the monkeys realize there is a boat nearby, they put on quite a show, jumping and swinging through the trees. A word of caution though – although the monkeys seem to welcome visitors, they are still wild animals, so don’t get too close. Also be careful of going under trees that are hanging over the water’s edge, as you just might suddenly have an unwelcome passenger on board that may not be easily persuaded to leave.

Board a boat for a cruise around 365 tiny tropical islands. Stay on the boat, cruising around the islands and learning about the lush flora from your guide. Marvel at Mombacho Volcano while cruising through the small islands, formed over 10,000 years ago when the volcano erupted. Keep an eye out for native birds like tanagers, hawks, jays and warblers.

Pirata Bar

Lake Nicaragua

A poplular stop when cuising the Islets is a stop at the Pirata Bar, a great little restaurant taking up the whole island and serving the fresh lake caught fish.  

Lake Nicaragua, despite being a freshwater lake, has sawfish, tarpon, and sharks.  

Mombacho Volcano

This volcano, situated within the Volcan Mombacho Natural Park, is 1400 meters high. It's been extinct for many years now, and it is totally covered with vegetation. A rich ecosystem has grow over it that now house 50 species of mammals, 174 species of birds, 30 of reptiles and 750 species of flora.

You can reach the top by foot or with a special tracks with double traction. A scientific laboratory, a small museum and a restaurant have been built on it's peak. It is possible to set off on various well marked tracks which edge the main extinct crater. Typically interesting are the natural sounds which are amplified by the crater.

Along the tracks, round holes can be found, from which hot water vapour is released. You can also find "mirador" to stop for a break at to admire Cocibolca lake, Apoyo lagoon and the city of Granada.

Mombacho Cigar Factory  - Granada Nicaragua

Mombacho Cigars

Like fine wine from a vintage grape harvest, the quality of premium cigars is largely defined by the fertility and richness of the soil that the tabaco is grown in.

Nicaraguan soil is blessed on two fronts.

With a warm Caribbean climate, ubiquitous sun and dozens of volcanoes dotting its landscape, Nicaragua is home to some of the most fertile, supple soil on earth. Volcanic ash increases soil fertility for agriculture by adding nutrients and acting as mulch. Furthermore, because the soil is so healthy it requires little or no pesticides or fertilizer to keep insects, weeds and diseases at bay, being able to produce its own natural repellents.

Secondly, environments that have a long history of farming often end up with overused, old soil, which has over time, been depleted of many of its nutrients. Fertilizers are required to enhance the soil, which affect products tastes and in the case of tabaco growing, detract from a cigar's smoothness.

Because of the relatively young age of the Nicaraguan cigar industry, and the young age of the soil, the country enjoys very rich, nutrient-filled soil in need of little enhancement. As a result, Nicaraguan cigars are renowned for their natural taste and distinct smoothness, traits reflected by the tremendous growth in popularity that premium Nicaraguan cigars are seeing.

A cigar is only as good as the soil it comes from.

Nicaragua has long been recognized for its fertile, volcanic soil that, coupled with a warm, Caribbean climate provide for ideal growing conditions. Add in time-honoured care and nurturing, and the result is a smooth, even-bodied smoking experience.

Mombachos begin their journey in these fields, nestled in the shadows of Nicaragua's many volcanoes, where only the finest leaves are carefully hand selected. All tabaco is aged for a minimum of two and one-half years before being expertly blended and rolled into supple cigars.

In honour of age-old tradition, the foot of each Mombacho is then finished with a touch of uncut leaf, sealing in natural Nicaraguan humidity and protecting your cigar along its journey.

The Mombacho smoking experience yields a smooth, medium-bodied taste that is the result of an age-old family blend, a secret recipe safeguarded by the Cigar Master himself.

About Your Mombacho Cigar

  • Style: Mombacho Classico
  • Wrapper: Indonesian Sumatra
  • Filler: A three tabaco blend from Jalapa Valley, Condega and Sumatra
  • Size: 5.5 inches (13.97 cm) x 50 ring guage


Very few visitors to Nicaragua are likely to have heard of Estelí – even though it is the second largest city in the northern half of the country. Although Esteli has very few noteworthy attractions as such, this pretty little city is nonethelss a delightful place to visit, and its people are warm and friendly. The city of Estelí is located in the Estelí department and is situated roughly 150 km north of Managua. You can reach it by means of the Pan-American Highway and it makes for a great stop if you are planning to travel the northern regions of Nicaragua.

The city of Estelí is situated at an altitude of about 800 meters above sea level, which gives it a much cooler, more pleasant climate than much of the rest of the country. The city is viewed as being the gateway to the northern regions of the country so it sees a lot of commercial traffic. People living in the surrounding areas often come to Estelí to sell their products and buy supplies and the agricultural sector is the largest sector in the area. Tobacco is a major industry and high quality cigars are easy to come by in the city. The city currently has a population of roughly 120,000 people and it is growing with each passing year.

One thing worth noting about Esteli is that it is the only place along the Pan American Highway to feature a traffic light between Managua and the Honduran border. Another is that this part of the country served as a refuge for Cuban cigar makers during the Cuban Revolution (which is perhaps why the tobacco industry is so big here) and that the area saw a lot of heavy fighting during the Sandinista revolution. One of the top attractions near Estelí is the ancient petroglyphs that can be found roughly three kilometers east of the city. Some of these petroglyphs date back over to 1000 years ago and they are also near a number of gigantic fossilized mammals that have been unearthed in the area. A number of beautiful waterfalls can be found just five kilometers south of the city and the city itself features some interesting architecture and beautiful views.

Estelí is indeed at the center of the international hand-crafted cigar industry, which supports tens of thousands of families in the region. In addition to tobacco farms, there are processing and rolling factories in and around the city, as well as a giant network of growers, buyers, and sellers. 
The tobacco industry is also starting to create tourism jobs. Many travelers are coming to Estelí to see where their cigars are made. They either travel on their own or as part of a specialized group.  Other travelers come to Estelí to order custom cowboy boots, tour the city’s famous street art, enjoy the climate, go hiking to Tisey, or—if they are like me—all of the above.

Smokin’ Nicaragua

There is history in that cigar you’re smoking — stories hidden among the tightly packed folds of tobacco and along the delicate veins of its wrapper leaf. As you light the puro in your hand and watch it turn into ash and smoke, take a sip of rum and ponder the unique legacy of the Estelí cigar industry.

It all began with the 1959 Cuban revolution, when capitalist Cuban cigar lords found their businesses liquidated into the new socialism. These artisans of the finest cigars in the world quickly gathered illicit caches of the precious tobacco seeds their families had been cultivating for centuries and fled to Miami. From there, it was only a couple of years before they discovered Nicaragua.

One grower told Cigar Aficionado magazine that Cuba and Nicaragua “have the most fertile dirt in the world for tobacco. It’s almost like God said, ‘I’m going to pick these two countries and I’m going to use them for tobacco.’”

And so the core of the old Cuban cigar aristocracy moved to Estelí and, with their precious seeds from the homeland, began turning out world-renowned cigars once again. They endured another popular revolution in 1979, the ensuing civil war and land redistribution, and then survived the cigar boom and bust of the 1990s, followed by the waters of Hurricane Mitch that tore through their fields in 1998. But the business is sunk deep into the rich soil, and the handful of familial cigar dynasties that first came to Nicaragua 30 years ago are still here, and still rolling world-class cigars.

Most of the tobacco fields and giant wooden drying barns are found across the Estelí valley as it runs north away from the city, as well as in many upper reaches all the way to Jalapa. In Estelí there are about 10 serious cigar producers, a few of which will let travelers in their doors for an informal tour and perhaps a taste test. Most businesses are zona franca (free-trade zone), however, which prohibits them from selling their product within Nicaragua.

AJ Fernandez

April 17, 2010 marked a sad milestone in the world of cigars. On that day, Alejandro Robaina passed away, and we cigar smokers lost the soul and conscience of the Cuban cigar industry.

Sr. Robaina was not only the greatest grower of the best tobacco in Cuba (his family had been growing tobacco there since 1845), but a man not afraid to speak his mind.  Alejandro’s knowledge, experience, and convictions are legendary, and his legacy is not only his personal achievements, but also the knowledge he had imbued to the people around him. Those lucky enough to have been in his sphere were exposed to a wealth of practical cigar-making knowledge, acquired over a lifetime of experience. For this we all owe Sr. Robaina a debt of gratitude.

Presently there are two young men who practice Alejandro’s time-honored cigar growing/manufacturing techniques. One is his grandson Hiroshi who has taken up his grandfather’s position in Pinar del Rio, Cuba, while the other has taken up residency in Esteli, Nicaragua. His name is Abdel (AJ) Fernandez, and with every cigar he makes, he is quietly building a reputation as a master cigar maker. 

In the beginning…

Barely three decades young, with the demeanor of a shy child, AJ doesn’t fill the room with ego and bravado, but rather a quite intensity that seems to flow in the direction of his gaze.  But how can someone so young know so much about cigar making?  The answer seems to be that this fellow’s mind is consumed with one thing: pushing the art of cigar making to its limits.  This creative spirit was instilled in AJ at a very early age.  His father and grandfather were both cigar growers in Cuba, and with Alejandro Robaina as a neighbor and mentor, the environment was ripe for the emergence of great cigar making talent.

For AJ, the town of Esteli was the perfect place to begin his dream.  There his uncle, Nestor Plasencia Sr. had already built a tobacco growing empire and could assist his young nephew (age 24 at the time), in getting a foothold.  And AJ hit the ground running.  After just a year of working at the Plasencia factory, he felt the need to spread his wings.

Fernandez factory in Esteli, Nicaragua

Starting with just two pairs of rollers, AJ began by filling overflow orders for other cigar manufacturers.  But his talents for blending would soon create opportunities to make his own cigars.  Some of his early creations are still in production: Rocky Patel Fusion, Sol Cubano Cuban Cabinet, ITC 10th Anniversary, and the Padilla Habano.  He currently produces 8 – 10 million cigars a year with 180 rollers working in his Esteli factory.  By limiting each roller to under 200 cigars a day, AJ is able to maintain a high level of construction quality.  He grows tobacco in Nicaragua and Ecuador and will employ as many as 1000 workers during the harvest.  His cigar output has now expanded to the point that most non-Cuban cigar smokers have probably experienced the Fernandez flavor.  A flavor all his own.

AJ negotiating a tobacco purchase at Nicaprosa (Oliva Tampa) in Esteli

We cigar lovers refer to the taste of cigars as a flavor profile.  That’s because the taste of cigars is complex and can’t be simply identified.  This flavor is determined by a number of factors: the type of tobacco used, where it is grown, the fermentation process employed, and the final blend of a particular cigar.   All premium cigars share these elements yet some cigars are simply better than others.  Among the best of these, certain cigars stand out as exceptional.  But why is that?  If all cigar makers carefully grow, ferment, and blend their products, why aren’t ALL cigars great?  The answer is not a simple one but ultimately comes down to talent and experience.  Like a great chef, a cigar maker will make his mark by having his own style, or flavor.  In smoking a Fernandez blend it becomes clear that there is a unique quality that sets his cigars apart from others.  And this is not by chance.  By employing techniques learned from Sr. Robaina, AJ is practicing a cigar making methodology, hundreds of years in the making.  These techniques are generally kept secret, and cigar makers guard them very carefully, but the result of knowledge passed down to AJ is evidenced in every Fernandez cigar.  With high complexity, a creamy texture, and smoky richness, his offerings reflect a personal style of cigar making, with direct lineage to Sr. Robaina.  AJ’s unique fermenting techniques have yielded new types of wrappers and his new blends show an evolution in style that is more refined with each offering.  We cigar smokers have a great resource in AJ Fernandez.  He currently makes over 32 blends, and is only now just beginning to hit his groove.  In his own quite way, Sr. Fernandez has begun to build his own legacy that, over time, will produce many great cigars.  Sr. Robaina would, indeed, be very proud.

Alejandro Robaina and AJ Fernandez

New AJ Fernandez Factory

A major construction project has been under way for several months in Esteli, Nicaragua.

June 17, 2012. The brands being made by AJ Fernandez, including the San Lotano (Finest Cigars of 2011, #2) are outstripping the capacity of the many factories and warehouses that AJ has in Esteli. So work commenced on this new facility on late 2011. It is expected to be completed in the summer of 2012 and will have the capacity to produce some 60,000 cigars per day. The facility will include everything from tobacco pre-industry to rolling and packaging. It is located just off the Pan-American highway.