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Marc Goes To Nicaragua!

2023 Perdomo Factory Tour

A bat. A pangolin. An open-air livestock market. The failure of the Luddites to thwart the industrial

revolution. The Wright Brothers’ successful attempt at human flight in Kitty Hawk, NC. I have just

described the ingredients necessary for a years-long pause in factory tours at Tabacalera Perdomo in

Estelí, Nicaragua. On January 28th, 2023, the first Perdomo tour group in almost 4 years arrived in

Managua. This group included me.

Aeropuerto Augusto Cesar Sandino, despite its grandiose name, contains a dozen or so gates. This

humble portal served as the first foreign soil upon which I had ever stepped. Were it not for the actions

of those ahead of me in line, it would have been difficult to determine who in the airport served as

employees, as there was no apparent uniform policy in place. A street-clothed woman with a clipboard

summoned me into a cluster of 2 or 3 other similar acting officials. After a thorough, 7-second

examination of my credentials, she gestured around the corner towards a line of customs officers in

individual booths. There I faced even greater scrutiny in a 2-minute, 8-word interview before one of my

$10 bills was exchanged for a tourist visa.

After receiving no opposition to the contents of my luggage, as well as confirming with a random airport

employee (she was at a desk, so I figure she worked there) my freedom to exit the airport, I searched

outside for the shuttle van to the Hotel Globales Camino Real. Though it was nowhere to be found,

another tour participant outside noticed the Perdomo logo on my shirt and asked if I was awaiting the

shuttle. This was serendipitous for my incredible anxiety in being surrounded by the unfamiliar. A few

minutes later, we were picked up and speedily shuttled to our hotel.

All other tour participants had already arrived and checked in. After checking in myself at around 3pm, I

joined the others by the pool to meet, greet, and smoke. I met Arthur Kemper, the VP of Perdomo and

our tour guide, as well as several Perdomo sales representatives. As this was the first tour in years, more

than a quarter of total participants were Perdomo sales reps (6 in total, 5 newbies). Despite my

excitement to meet everyone and talk shop, my sleep deprivation and travel weariness took

precedence, so I was asleep by 6pm and remained in bed until 9am on January 29th


Our directive was to be ready to depart for Estelí by noon. Therefore, I had gotten ready, checked out,

eaten, and lit a cigar by the pool by about 10:30am. After an hour and a half of smoking and talking in

the company of both other participants and several roaming cats, we loaded the Perdomo school bus

and hit the Pan American Highway north to Estelí.

Following the theme of the airport, the highway’s immense-seeming name was in stark contrast

to its 1-2 lane reality. Nevertheless, aside from occasionally having to roll our windows up for roadside

garbage fires, the drive was pleasantly scenic and, as I sat close to Arthur who described things we

passed, informative. We stopped about 3⁄4 of the way to Estelí in a town called Sebaco for a gas station

respite. A woman selling fake Ray-Bans for $5 apiece poised herself just outside the bus door. Despite

there being 2 police officers inside the gas station, one wielding a shotgun, this stop was quick and


About an hour later, we arrived at Hotel La Campiña, a small, family-run inn a few minutes north

of the Perdomo factory. As it only contains about a dozen rooms, Perdomo rents it out entirely for its

tour groups. The rooms were arranged in a square with doors facing inward to a small courtyard. They

were each equipped with a mini-split air conditioner, a TV (which surprisingly had cable), and a restroom

with shower. Despite many warnings beforehand telling us we would be paired in our rooms, I received

a private room with a king-sized bed.

Though we had running water, the hotel operated on a small septic system which had to be

pumped clean every few days. As such, toilet paper was to be thrown in the trash rather than flushed.

There was no water heating tank, but there was an electric heating element around the shower head.

The water pressure was not much greater than dumping a bottle of water over oneself, and the heat

lasted for about 2 minutes. There was a lobby (every space outside the rooms was outdoors) where we

smoked as a group.

We were served 3 buffet-style, time-of-day appropriate meals each day. The food was hearty

and humble, including selections of various braised meat and rice dishes, beans, cooked and fresh

vegetables, and a dessert after each dinner, all cooked from scratch. I couldn’t help but think of the

contrast between the meals at our table and those occurring in the many tin-roof sheds we passed on

our way there. Perdomo maintained coolers of bottled water, beer (Toña- the Nicaraguan equivalent of

Bud/Miller/Coors), and Coca-Cola in the lobby. The hotel provided coffee at breakfast (6:30am every


After breakfast on Monday the 30th, we started our educational journey in a small building on

the hotel grounds. There we were given a seminar by Arthur on the history of how tobacco seeds got to

Nicaragua after the Cuban revolution, as well as basics of the measurement and importance of soil

composition. Oscar, their chief agronomist, with translation from Arthur, illustrated the difference in soil

amongst the multiple farms Perdomo operates across Nicaragua. We were also given demonstrations of

the seed sorting and seed tray implanting processes.

From there, we were bussed to Finca Natalie, Perdomo’s farm in Estelí. Though the entrance to

the farm complex was from a paved highway, it was several minutes down a narrow, gravel road until

we reached a clearing where we could see the farm itself. Despite only a small portion of the farm being

planted, it was still a marvelous sight. We took photos in assorted groups at this point.

We then proceeded to the bottom of the valley where we exited the bus and sat on folding

chairs at the farm’s edge. There Arthur gave a seminar on the importance of the farm's geography: the

surrounding mountains protected the tobacco plants from wind damage, and a nearby river fed the

irrigation system. Arthur then led us to one of several nearby greenhouses to view and discuss the

seedling tobacco plants. The seedlings must be constantly observed and measured for potential sickness

and root formation density. Once confirmed to be healthy and strong enough, they are suitable for

planting in the field.

Upon exiting the greenhouse, we boarded a tractor-pulled trolley to be taken through the fields.

This provided ample photo opportunity. We got off the trolley to walk on a trail between plots, the size

of tobacco plants growing every few dozen feet. Newly planted seedlings were being fed a mixture of

water and fertilizer through overturned soda bottles. Until the plants are nearly fully grown, oxen are

driven between the rows to pack the soil. As the lowest leaves begin to touch the soil, they are culled to

become organic compost, as they are deemed too insipid for Perdomo’s taste. The flowers atop the

stalks are culled so as not to sap nutrients from the rest of the plant. Smaller leaves called “suckers” (as

they suck nutrients) which spring up from the flower bulb site are culled every few days until all leaves

are harvested. Leaves lower on the plant are “viso”, higher up “seco”, and the highest “ligero”.

We then arrived at the curing barns- large sheds made on site by hand of eucalyptus. Inside,

workers strung leaves in groups of 72 onto eucalyptus sticks to hang in the barn. Other workers climbed

as high as 30 feet to hang these sticks to cure over the next few weeks. This process is key in allowing

the leaves to release moisture and gases, turning them brown and pliable. Though this barn seemed

endlessly large from within, it was only 1 of 5 such barns on this farm, which is only 1 of 3 farms owned

by Perdomo. After the barns, we bussed back to the hotel for the night. We had to leave by 4:30pm to

beat traffic, as almost all workers left exactly at 5pm.

The next day, Monday the 31st, we left at 8am for the factory. We passed the factories of My

Father, Oliva, Padron, and 1 or 2 small others between our hotel and Tabacalera Perdomo. According to

Arthur, Perdomo’s is the only factory in Nicaragua who flies an American flag. The façade of Perdomo

was utilitarian in contrast to the Spanish hacienda exterior of My Father, but this is a point of pride for

the business-first Nick Perdomo.

Our first stop at the factory was a building housing the pilones: the piles of fermenting tobacco

leaves. Once we summited the stairs to the top floor, we were overcome with a pungent mix of

“barnyard aromas” (think zoo pachyderm exhibit) and what Arthur adamantly insisted was not

ammonia. Here, leaves tied together in “hands” were stacked in massive piles weighing 3-4,000 lbs. The

temperature in the center of a pilon reaches over 100 degrees Fahrenheit before it is disassembled. The

hands are then individually moistened, beaten of excess moisture, and set in a single layer on tarps for

1-2 days before being assembled into another pilon. This process is repeated until the pilon operation

manager, Hamilton, determines through wrapping a leaf around a cigar and smoking it to determine its

burn quality and flavor that a pilon is sufficiently fermented.

We continued to a balcony with an attached office. Arthur mentioned here that Nick Perdomo

was upset that this balcony was constructed, as its area could have been used to house more pilones.

We left this building, stopping briefly in their climate-controlled seed bank. Though it was only a small

shed with a few dozen jars, the infinitesimal size of a tobacco seed meant this room housed millions. We

then visited the hornos, or drying rooms. Here, the fermented leaves were placed in single layers on

sheets of chicken wire in heated rooms. The pungency here was so intense, we were advised to hold our

breath to enter the room and only remain for a few seconds. Several participants decided here to test

their pulmonary fortitude, and as many spent the next few minutes coughing.

Just outside the hornos was the baler. Here we watched as 2 workers placed a cube of the dried,

fermented leaves under a press, which compacted the cube to less than half its original size. They then

sewed the pressed cubes into tarps, thus creating a bale. We continued to the bale aging room, another

seemingly endless warehouse of shelves of bales, their resting place for up to 10 years. At the end of the

warehouse was a collection of barrels filled with leaves. Arthur explained here how every wrapper leaf is

aged in ex-Bourbon barrels. However, they also make a line of cigars, the Vintage 12-year, whose totality

of leaves is bourbon barrel aged. This line is limited to only 100 retailers, so many of us would most

likely never see one on a retail shelf. We were given a choice of Connecticut, Sungrown, or Maduro

Vintage 12-year to smoke there. We were also given the opportunity to feel and smell the leaves in the

barrels. The aroma was potent yet pleasant, and the texture was lightly oily and firm.

This room also housed the wrapper leaf moistening chamber. The aforementioned moistening

and beating process is dangerous to the fragility of the wrapper leaves, so they are instead attached to

40-foot-long, spinning cylinders while nearby water jets gently mist them. We were then taken to see

where workers broke apart bales of aged leaves to weigh and portion them into bundles. We then

briefly visited a room where they kept their pesticides; every few months, the aging rooms are gassed

for beetles. After this, we gathered in a room with rolling tables and chairs but no workers, tobacco, or

equipment. Arthur said this would soon become an overflow rolling room. He also told us we were

about to enter the production side of the factory.

We were told not to stop until instructed. This was because we had to pass through a packaging

room which we wouldn’t be visiting until later. We stopped in a room eerily quiet for housing several

dozen workers. This was the deveining room, where workers skillfully stripped the stem and no more

from each leaf. As part of Perdomo’s overall policy of making as little waste as possible, these would

become compost. We were then shown where office workers distributed the weighed bundles to

runners who brought them to the rollers.

It was now the moment we had all been waiting for: the rolling room. We filed quickly to one

end of the gallery. Though I didn’t count, I would estimate there were at least 200 pairs of rollers in this

room. Arthur gestured to the workers, who then began pounding their tables to applaud our arrival.

Though I doubt any among them genuinely cared, we were assured the workers were grateful we had

spent our time and/or money to visit them in their home country.

After our sitting ovation, Arthur took us to various pairs of rollers to explain the process. Some

rollers act as boncheros, or bunchers. The boncheros bunch the filler leaves together inside a binder

leaf, placing them in a Lieberman machine (a device which ensures uniform rolling) to create the bundle.

The bundles are then placed into molds, which other workers stack and place into presses. After a

couple of hours, the pressed bundles are passed out to different rollers who place the wrapper leaf and

cap. Each roller specializes in bunching or wrapping only one vitola (size and shape of cigar).

We took a couple of group photos, after which we were allowed a few minutes to roam around

the rolling room to examine what we pleased. One participant remarked to Arthur that a particular

bonchero was lightning fast. Many of us gathered around him to witness his speed. We affectionately

referred to him as the “Tom Brady” of bunching, a reference he appreciated.

The next step was the quality control room. Here, bundles of 50 cigars were taken apart and

examined individually for defects. Once finished examining, the workers reassembled the bundles with

defective cigars flipped around. These would be delivered to the rollers who rolled them to be fixed if

possible. If a cigar is too defective to fix, it is taken apart to salvage whatever leaves possible. Once a

bundle fully passes quality control, it is delivered to the draw testing room. There, workers double check

the ring gauge is precise, then place the foot of the cigar in a tube that pushes air in and out of it to test

the draw quality.

Bundles of cigars which pass all steps are ready for the cigar aging room. There, they sit on

shelves to dry and age for up to 2 years. During this time, workers occasionally use a special probe

inserted into the foot of the cigar to measure the internal humidity. After aging, the cigars are ready for

the packaging department.

Before we visited packaging, we went to the box factory. Perdomo is proud of its vertical

integration, meaning they personally make almost everything that goes into a box of Perdomo cigars-

including the box itself. Repurposed cargo containers serve as drying and storage room for lumber. Once

properly dried, they mill the lumber into the various shapes and sizes used in the box factory.

The box factory was the only point during the tour where we were not allowed to smoke. Here,

workers manufactured every part of the box except the labels and hinges/clasps. They mill, hammer,

sand, and press the boxes into shape. This process alone requires a box pass through dozens of hands.

The finished raw wood boxes are then hinged, stamped, lacquered, dried, silk-screened, quality

controlled, touched up, labeled, placed in plastic sleeves, and stored in a warehouse until the cigars they

are to contain are ready to be packaged. We saw a batch of “Perdomo Reserve” boxes being finished.

“Reserve” is the name Perdomo must use in lieu of the word “Champagne” in the European market due

to legal issues with the French. “Habano” must also be omitted outside the US due to the Cuban cigar

monopoly on that word.

Inside the box warehouse, we were shown a museum of old Perdomo boxes. These ranged from

old versions of current cigar blends to completely discontinued lines. We were also shown an old box for

the “Edicion de Silvio”- a discontinued cigar named in honor of a decades-long Perdomo employee who

left the company 2 years ago (hence the discontinuation). This box contained coffins of individual cigars.

We also passed an impressive mural of discontinued labels.

In the packaging department, we stopped in the band room. One of the very few things

Perdomo doesn’t manufacture in a box of their cigars, the bands and box labels are made by a company

in the Netherlands who makes bands/labels for brands such as Opus X and Davidoff. In this room,

workers broke apart and grouped together bands for the packagers. Contrary to what one might expect,

the packagers are given exactly as many bands as they are cigars. Should the packagers make a mistake,

they must exchange each ruined band for a new one for accountability and inventory purposes, as the

bands are expensive.

After this, we visited the color testers. There are over 70 different shades of wrapper leaf

identifiable by a trained color sorter. These workers are given bundles of aged cigars which they must

break apart and place in trays of like shades. These trays are then taken to the penultimate step in

producing a box of Perdomo cigars: packaging. The packagers band, cellophane, bar code, and box the

cigars by hand. The finished boxes must pass one final quality control test. A table of two workers

inspects each box, as well as unboxes and inspects every cigar. Duds are sent back to the worker

responsible to be rectified. If a single cigar in a box is deemed unsatisfactory, the entire contents must

be disassembled and sent back to the color testers to be resorted to ensure uniform color in each box.

The finished boxes are then shrink-wrapped.

The final step is to freeze the finished boxes to kill any beetle eggs that may be in the cigar. They

are frozen to –40 degrees, then spend 2-3 days being brought slowly back to room temperature.

Unfortunately, the freezer was mid-tempering while we were there, so we couldn’t see the inside. After

they are tempered, the cigar boxes are grouped together in cardboard boxes for shipment to Perdomo’s

warehouse in Miami, Florida, from which point they ship to retailers across the world.

It was at this point we were brought to a display table atop which was every vitola of every line

of cigar Perdomo sells in the US. After Arthur explained the wares, a tour participant suggested we give

a round of applause to the factory workers. We cheered for them for a couple of minutes, after which

Arthur became visibly emotional. It was the least we could do after witnessing all the hard work that

went into everything on that table.

After dinner at the hotel that evening, we gathered in the outbuilding we started in for a

seminar on the Perdomo sales and marketing philosophy. Arthur introduced us to the concept of the

“Perdomo Matrix”: the ideal retail shelf arrangement of Perdomo cigars for maximum customer impact.

He posited that while some cigar stores are good at selling their wares, most lack the basic customer

service (let alone the sales acumen) to effectively market their cigars. Therefore, Perdomo designed a

presentation pattern after the displays of companies like Frito-Lay and Coca-Cola. In theory, Perdomo

believes this arrangement will lure shoppers to stand in front of it not unlike they would when buying

chips or soda at a grocery store.

Upon conclusion of this seminar, Nelson Cuba, operations manager for Perdomo, held up his

phone for Nick Perdomo to thank us via video call. Unfortunately, he was in Miami, so this was our only

interaction with him the entire tour. Afterwards, Arthur presented each of us with a certificate

commemorating our completion of the Perdomo factory tour. He then gave us each a 3-pack of the

Vintage 12-year cigar.

At 8am on Wednesday the 1st, we departed Hotel La Campiña for the airport. Other than a brief

stop when the bus driver thought we had a flat tire (we didn’t), our ride back to Managua was sedate.

Despite being allowed to take Bic lighters into Nicaragua, I had mine confiscated on departure. While

waiting to board the flight back to the US, I went into a small smoking lounge. There was one other

person inside. We got to talking and I found out he was none other than Luciano of Luciano cigars. He

threw me a free stick and I gave him my business card. I have yet to hear from his sales representative,

so I suppose we won’t be carrying their stock any time soon.

Other than becoming sick with COVID the day after getting back home, I am incredibly grateful

for getting to visit Nicaragua. I had a general idea of the broad strokes of what it took to make a box of

cigars, but to witness every step firsthand, to see the sheer scale of it, was a humbling and enlightening

experience. I hope one day to visit again. I also hope one day to have the opportunity to write a synopsis

of a visit to a different factory, maybe even in a different country. Until then, I’ll have fond memories

and fine cigars to keep me company.

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