This article should be useful for the roll-your-own-cigarette smokers on their travels. From my own experience it is virtually impossible to get any information about where to get baccy, how much does it cost and what brand to pick in South East Asian and Latin American markets.
To cut the long story short: get your stash at the Duty Free shop on the airport before leaving your country. It will cost you less than if buying baccy in most of the places in South and Central Americas, Thailand and Laos. As far as I know, you can only score a cheaper Drum or Golden Virginia in Vietnam and Cambodia.
Except for paying less for your baccy, you will also spare some time searching for places where to get the baccy (there’s not so many of them) as well as you will know what you’re getting because many brands in South and Central Americas are completely unknown for a Westerner. In case you are interested in more details, please read further. FIY, for SEA scroll further down.
Before I start, I need to say that I understand that tobacco has a bad influence on our health but at the same time as it could be good for one’s soul. Anyway, this piece will be mentioning brands of tobacco but there are no advertising revenue or any kind of profit-related intentions involved on my end. It only intends to be barely a shopping guide for us, the niche market baccy smokers.
Where to get the rolling tobacco in Latin America?
The most baccy rolling people and therefore the most choices as well as shops to get rolling tobacco I’ve seen in the whole Latin world was Argentina, particularly in Buenos Aires. In Chile, I’ve seen many of the 100% organic types of tobacco in the major tourist destinations. Due to having a large stash from Argentina while being in Uruguay, I don’t know much about the options there – from the occasional checks – I haven’t seen much rolling tobacco going on.
In Bolivia I’ve once came across one American Spirit in La Paz and that’s it. Peru had some OK-ish choices in Cusco and Lima. In Ecuador I haven’t been able to find any and in Colombia it is not very common to smoke rollies either but you can get some baccy but I can’t say that I’d buy those brands again. IMHO, Guatemala and Argentina remain the easiest countries to get baccy in Latin Americas.
Generally, I believe that due to an occasional demand, you should be able get baccy in every major city or tourist destination but somewhere you might have to work hard (search&move and search&move some more) in order to get it. Look for tabaquerias (Google can help here) but be prepared that they might not be selling rolling tobacco among all that 1000 kinds of cigars in every tabaqueria.
Asking for a tobacco para liar and making the hand gestures usually does the job of describing what you want. As you might know, the rolling tobacco is not very common here and people often don’t know about it in some tobacco shops at all.
Prices or rolling tobacco in South America
Many of my friends were advising me of buying tobacco products here in SA as they were meant to be theoretically cheaper. That is a myth, because at least in 90% of cases it was a wee bit more expensive than for example in Germany. The 30gram package goes from about €3,30, in the recession-hit Argentina but in most cases think more like €4-6 for a package for an unknown mediocre-to-shit brands. Guatemala is also on the cheaper end €5.80 for 40gr package of Domingo.
Furthermore, please note that the prices are not fixed – varying up to a 30% difference within a city. Generally, the smaller the demand gets, the more expensive baccy becomes. For example in Lima I came across Drum and Van Nelle. The price was nearly €15,- for 50 grams, while Stanley went for about a third of that price.
Brands of rolling tobacco in South America
Because you can’t open and smell the package prior to purchasing it, this was a trial and error kind of method for me. I’ve bought many different brands and only some of them would be reaching the higher average levels. Very rarely I would be 100% satisfied.
My “methodology” was asking for a húmedo tobacco (as opposed to seco/dry) and then picking a brand based on if it said halfzware and what was my instinct telling me about the name of the product. For example I assumed if something is called Amsterdamer – it could be a dutch type of baccy, which has backfired on many occasions, like in this particular case 😀
Unfortunately, the outcome of this trial and error method was that some 70% of tobacco I’ve purchased was mediocre or even of worse quality. Except Pueblo and Pepe, the only brands from those I came across in SA that was known to me was the ever mediocre Turner, which I have resulted in purchasing because most of the other brands were just worse.
1: Deer (purchased in Colombia). The only thing about this baccy that is nearly right is its name. If it was called Oh Dear – the name would be perfect. Avoid if you can.
2: Amsterdamer (Argentina). The name is as misleading as it can get. Avoid if you can.
3: Look Out (Argentina and Peru). Yes – watch out for this one. Avoid if you can.
1: Domingo (Nicaragua, Guatemala). Drum-like baccy. Arguably the best I’ve smoked from the local market brands but it kinda kills your taste buds when you smoke a bit more. But the 25 grams for €5.37 it’s not really a bargain, especially when you consider the fact that the rizlas in Nicaragua could be up to €1.60 are at and filters at €2.55 – it’s all but a bargain): Update: In Guatemala you get 40grams for 50,-Quetzals, which is about €5.80
2: Pepe (Argentina, Peru). It’s a known brand one can get in Europe sometimes. Actually rather good smoke after Look Outs and Amsterdamers but at 30grams for €4,80 it was rather expensive.
3: Flandria Original (Argentina). OK-ish Drum-like baccy if no better smoke is available. At 30 grams for €3,50 in Buenos Aires it was about the cheapest OK-ish baccy I’ve came across. The price is however relative as Argentina’s currency is currently experiencing a horrible recession.
4: Stanley (Peru). Almost Drum-like baccy if no better was available for a while. 30gr @ €6.35.
Virginia tobacco brands:
1: Flandria Virginia (Argentina). It states: English Virgina and the slogan is kind of right.
2: Stanley Virginia (Peru). OK-ish Virgina type. Smokable.
Organic/100% natural/dry types that are the mostly known:
2: American Spirit
1: Caney (Colombia). Cigar-like rolling tobacco. Interesting, different a a bit strong.
2: Señor Azteca Halzware Shag (Nicaragua). OK-ish, dutch-type like baccy.
Prices and places to get rolling tobacco in SEA
Vietnam – get it at any major larger tourist destinations like Sa Pa, Hanoi, Saigon or Hoi An. Prices vary from about €4-10 for a 50grams of Drum, depending mainly on your haggling skills.
Laos – Luang Prabang had few places to get tobacco but as far as I remember – it wasn’t cheap (I’ve had my own duty free stash so I didn’t investigate much)
Cambodia – I’ve seen cheap Drum in Sihanoukville, 50 grams for about €4.
Thailand – bring your own unless you want to pay €11-15 for a 50gram Drum package. If you are desperate and not keen on the Thai local hard core baccy – you can get those in major tourist destinations.
Where to smoke in Latin America
As for the actual enjoyment the products mentioned above, Latin America is rather “European”, which means that in spite the extremely privilege-level kind of taxes, you can’t really use the products as freely as the weight of those taxes suggests. I haven’t been in Paraguay, Brazil and the north-west countries yet but as for the rest, you will not be able to light up indoors in most places, except Bolivia and Nicaragua.
The most hardcore anti-smoking probably was Panama. Personally, I’ve got a natural self-imposed smoking-ban and I would not smoke in closed spaces in front of small kids or just other non-smokers but there are reasonable boundaries that could be crossed when using common sense. This was the case in Panama, where it went to stupid lengths because I had to step away from the open air windy terrace, where I was sitting alone. In Ecuador for example, it was OK if your neighbors were OK with it.
In Colombia, smoking ban covers also many terraces that are glass-fenced (for sad reasons I’ll get to in another text), which makes it very difficult to find a café where you can enjoy the beverage and cigarette at the same time i.e. in Bogotá DC or Medellín. As far as I know you will be able to smoke on terraces in Argentina, Chile, Peru and sometimes in Ecuador either.