Everyone knows that Cuban cigars are hailed as the best in the world. But what is it about them that sets them apart from smokes that originate from other countries? The answer lies within the long and fascinating history of Cuban cigars, which visitors partaking in people-to-people Cuba travel can experience firsthand.

Much of what puts Cuban cigars into a class of their own is the quality of the tobacco. It's not clear exactly when and why the first tobacco plants were grown in Cuba, but we do know that they existed long before Spanish settlers arrived on the island. Aztecs were fond of smoking, and actually used it for medicinal purposes. It was they who introduced the plant, and thus the act of smoking, to the Western world when Christopher Columbus and his sailors arrived in the New World. It didn't take long for the habit to spread like wildfire, and soon smoking was common across several continents.

However, not everyone took to tobacco as well as the native Cubans had. In fact, King Philip II of Spain and King James I both denounced it as an evil habit. Many countries, including Turkey and Russia, went so far as to prohibit smoking altogether and enforced very serious punishments on those who broke the rules and lit up a stogie. But one ruler, King Felipe V, saw the great potential in the high-quality Cuban tobacco, and established a monopoly in the nation. The "Tobacco Monopoly" lasted from 1717 until 1817, at which point a countermandate freed up trade of the plant from Cuba to Spanish ports. Tobacco became so popular that it held the spot as Cuba's second most popular export, after sugar.

Tobacco continues to be a major part of Cuban culture to this very day. In fact, since the early 1990s, handmade cigars have experienced a bit of a revival around the world. And there's no finer handmade cigar than those that originate in Cuba. Factory workers in Cuba hand-roll the cigars in a complicated and delicate process. Cigar manufacturers hire quality control experts to make sure that each and every smoke that leaves the factory is up to snuff.

To truly understand the wonder of the Cuban cigar, you must embark on legal travel to Cuba. There you can see the places where tobacco is grown and where cigars are manufactured. You'll understand how the humid and warm climate of Cuba contributes to the creation of the finest cigars in the world.

Have you ever smoked a Cuban cigar? How about a Cuban in Cuba? Tell us about either in the comments section below. Better yet—join our Cuba people-to-people program and experience both!