2004 Update: many of the links here don't work any more, but
to bottom line it: almost every cuban cigar is still fake,
even those sold at the upscale stores.
On a recent trip to San Jose, Costa Rica I noticed that there
were Cuban cigars for sale at many souvenir and tourist shops.
The biggest proliferation seemed to be 5-packs of Montecristo #4's,
but there were Cohibas and Romeo Y Julitas as well. Every one of
them I found at these type of places were counterfeits, so beware.
A June 8, 1997 Sunday magazine of "La Nacion" newpaper story
reported that thses places have the genuine articles:
"Havanas Club" in San Jose
"Smoking Club" in San Pedro
"La Mata de Tabaco" in many of the malls
Another article on cigar bars ran October 8, 1998 and lists these
establishments as having real cuban cigars:
"Smoking Club Habanos" in San Pedro (same one as above)
"Bar La Castilla" in the Marriot Hotel in San Antonio de Belen
Even these places can have fakes as well, and here's the problem.
There is no officially licensed importer, distributor, retailer,
nor marketer of Cuban cigars in Costa Rica. Therefore not a single
one was purchased directly from any Cuban factory. They are all
imported via individuals not related to any authorized agency.
This explains two things -- first the plague of phonies and second
the high cost, there's at least two or three extra profit margins
included in those prices.
I have visited these places, they looked much better than the
tourist traps but here's my opinion:
"Cigar Shoppe" on the southwest corner of Parque Morazan: looks nice,
but the Romeo Y Julietta Cedros #3 was terrible. Fakes. Also
beware they will try a money change scam on you here to steal
your cash outright.
Lobby of Hotel Del Rey. The box of Hoyo de Monterrey had an ink
stamp instead of a heat stamp on the bottom. Fakes.
"La Mata de Tabaco S.A." at Cariari Plaza, Mall San Pedro and the
the MultiPlaza in Escazu. Just look at the the Cuban seal, they're very fake.
Januray 2000 update: There is now a "guarantee" seal placed next to the
the fake Cuban government seal. This "guarantee" is on fake boxes, so
I don't know what good it is, except to convince to you buy fake
"Havanas de Costa Rica S.A." (listed as "Havanas Club" in the first
article). They had the most impressive selection I ran across. They even
have a very fake Cohiba on display as a example of a fake. However their
Cohiba robustos were better looking, but fakes as well: the color of the
labels varied from yellow to orange in the same box. The Montecristo #1s
labels were too dark.