Hunting Cuban Cigars in San Jose Costa Rica

Fake Cuban Cigars Abound

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: Another article on cigar bars ran October 8, 1998 and lists these establishments as having real cuban cigars:
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:
See some fake boxes bought in San Jose
So you must learn how to spot the counterfeits:
Spotting Fakes Cigar Aficionado's Counterfeit Gallery Canada's Havana House's 10 steps Cigar Aficionado interview: Spotting a Fake Cigar - Part I Cigar Aficionado interview: Spotting a Fake Cigar - Part II Cigar Group FAQ from Dr. Smoke of CigarFriendly Notes & advice from cigars-of-cuba Picture Guide of Cuban Brands note just bands but the whole cigar
Also if you are looking for Costa Rica's best cigars, "Bahia Gold" you will not find them at all in Costa Rica, they're for export only. They are made in a "Free Zone" so no local taxes are paid on them and therefore they must be exported. They are also made of Nicaraguan tobacco (and probably rolled by Nicaraguans).