Drew Estate: A Destination for cigar smokers

If you like to light up a stick more than occasionally, it’s time for you to consider a “cigar safari.” This unique experience, offered by Drew Estate, which manufactures both traditional and infused cigars, is available up to 16 times a year at its factory in Esteli, Nicaragua. Spend four days and three nights soaking in the pool, sipping cocktails in the on-site lounge and sampling the entire Drew Estate line, from Acid to T52.

Many cigar manufacturers are offering tours for their end-consumers these days. Camacho, Rocky Patel and Pepin Garcia’s My Father are among the companies that have taken this giant marketing leap forward. With Drew Estate, however, there is a touch of a resort feel. The guestrooms, limited number, feel more like a hotel than the barracks style available at some of the factories, and the guest-to-bathroom ratio isn’t bad.

Upstairs is the sort of cigar lounge that makes smokers salivate, with plenty of couches, flat screen televisions, a bar and even a poker table (games are held regularly with guests). The lounge opens onto a balcony (soon to be furnished) that offers stunning views of the Nicaragua countryside. Back on the ground, you can have a drink prepared and sit by the pool – or slip into it to cool off for a while.


Only a short walk away is the factory, where you’ll become acquainted with the process by which the stuff on which you puff is made. The Drew Estate team will introduce you to the various infused and traditional lines it offers, and you’ll get the chance to see the company’s unique manufacturing process in action, from tobacco just being brought in the door through rolling, packaging and, yes, smoking. The guys on site are quite knowledgeable and will be able to answer all your questions thoroughly … except one.

Drew Estate stays mum on its infusing process and is quite committed to keeping the secret sauce secret. Somebody always asks, and the answer is always the same: NO. You also won’t be taken on a tour of that part of the facility. Fortunately, there’s plenty to experience already, so you’ll hardly miss the chance to eye some trade secrets.

On your visit to Drew Estate, be prepared to smoke. The point of the trips is to acquaint cigar smokers with the brand, sot eh company is always putting it at the center of the experience. Cigars, along with meals and beverages, are included in the nominal fee of $450 (you’re responsible for your own airfare).

Pack your cutter and your lighter (but not if you use a torch), and get ready to relax with a cigar in your hand for four days. Unlike most cigar trips, you can book this one on your own, rather than have it arranged through a smoke shop. Keep in mind that there is only a limited number of trips every year, and they do fill up quickly.

Tip-Top: Nicaraguan fast food

If you’re traveling to Nicaragua and have a city-sculpted Type A personality, you’re probably bracing yourself for meals that can last hours. Occasional glimpses of the restaurant staff offer brief interludes scattered among hours of nothingness. It gets tough after a while, making it hard to resist the urge to dine ‘n’ dash. Tip-Top, Nicaragua’s answer to Popeye’s or KFC, will scratch your fast food itch.

The Tip-Top format is not unfamiliar. If you’ve ever been to a fast-food joint anywhere, you’ll have no trouble figuring out how to order and where to eat. Just step up to the counter, and order the fried delight of your choice (I went with fried chicken and French fries). Pay. Pick up your food. Grab a table, and eat. To get your drink, stop by the fountain drink station, but let the attendant do the work for you (a real perk!).

To call Tip-Top easy would be the grossest of understatements. But, there’s nothing shocking here: it’s fast food.

%Gallery-84836%So, why does it deserve some space on the (not exactly) limited internet? Well, as fast food goes, Tip-Top is pretty damned good. The chicken was juicy, and the fries did have a little bit of character (but could have used some more). The service was relatively fast, so you can eat it off the dashboard when going from one cigar factory to the next.

If you plan to stick around and eat at Tip-Top, the experience is a small pocket of Americana in Spanish. The plastic chairs bolted to the tables are no more comfortable than they are in the United States, and there is a “playland” where kids can bounce off nets and ride the slide at a less than impressive speed.

Skip Tip-Top if you’re looking for an impressive culinary experience: you won’t find it here. But, if you need to fill your stomach quickly, this is definitely worth a few seconds of your time.

Hotel Review: Hotel Los Arcos

If you’re going to Esteli, Nicaragua, it’s probably for the cigars. The town is charming, if a bit rundown, but it’s proximity to the fields and factories of some of the world’s premier cigar manufacturers is undoubtedly the main attraction. So, be reasonable in your expectations when choosing a hotel. I spent three nights at Hotel Los Arcos on a visit to the Pepin Garcia cigar operation, and don’t have any complaints. It isn’t a luxury property (and doesn’t bill itself as such), but you will be clean and comfortable during your stay.

Hotel Los Arcos is one of the few hotels I’ve visited in the past few years that actually use keys – real metal keys. Turn it to enter your room, and the experience will vary. Some rooms have two single beds, while others deliver two full-sized. There are a handful of suites with balconies and a bit of extra elbow room, though no guestroom is cramped. The beds and bathrooms are clean but worn, though both would seem better with a bit more of an effort to decorate.

%Gallery-84834%If you’re accustomed to amenities, brace yourself. The rooms do have desks and televisions, but alarm clocks and phones are absent. Also, the desks aren’t near any power outlets. The lack of internet access will drive business travelers to the brink of insanity. There is a faint wireless signal, I was told, but you’ll only find it in a few places (the restaurant is a hotspot). The only alternative is to use one of the two ancient desktops at the top of the stairs to the second floor. They are slow (and in Spanish), so it may take you a moment to adapt.

The bar can get lively, depending on how many people are staying at the hotel, and there is sufficient variety on the shelves. Grab a drink to take with you to your table, however, as you’ll be waiting for a while. The service is in line with the norm in Nicaragua, but guests used to life at a faster pace may become frustrated. Meal quality varies. Breakfast, which consists of a small buffet, is a bit disappointing – far variety, presentation and taste. Dinner is much better, though guests should not expect culinary masterpieces.

Where Hotel Los Arcos succeeds is in its outdoor spaces. A courtyard adorned with a colorful mural offers plenty of seating, and there’s more on the roof, which offers views of Esteli and the mountains beyond it. If you’re traveling with a group, this is a plus, since you’ll have places where you can gather and hang out for a while. Also, I’m told the laundry service does a great job.

Hotel Los Arcos gets the job done. You’ll be clean and comfortable, and the accommodations are better than you’ll find at many of the places you’ll drive by n route. For cigar trips especially, you can’ go wrong with Los Arcos.