Some 1,500 tobacco specialists and cigar lovers from five continents have flocked to Cuba's capital for the 16th Havana Cigar Festival, an annual occasion for savoring what's new in cigars and disovering how they combine with drinks, chocolates and haute cuisine.

For guests at this year's festival who believe nothing can equal made-in-Cuba cigars, the host company Corporacion Habanos S.A. has announced the launch of new brands before they go on sale in 2014, plus the first contest to see who can burn the longest cigar ash.

The star of the show is, of course, the tobacco, accompanied at the Monday night welcome by the music of the salsa band Los Van Van, led by bassist Juan Formell, along with other Cuban artists at the exclusive Club Habana, the former Yacht Club.

Planned for the occasion is the launch of new cigar band labels: Le Hoyo de San Juan, made with leaves of a light, dry taste from plantations in the western province of Pinar del Rio, and the Serie D No. 6 of the Partagas brand, designed to be smoked in some 15 minutes.

Entrepreneurs, businessmen, collectors, sommeliers, cigar tasters, executives, artists, producers, journalists and lovers of hand-rolled tobacco can go Tuesday to the markets in Vuelta Abajo, where, some say, the best tobacco in the world is grown, and on the same day enjoy a special tasting session to savor cigars make with leaves grown in different soils.

The festival will wind up Friday with the traditional gala dinner, this time featuring the premier H. Upmann Reserve No. 2, made from leaves aged for three years and whose production has been limited to just 5,000 cigars. EFE