Havana's annual cigar festival attracts aficionados from all over the world. Smokers competing to create the longest unbroken ash cradle their H Upmann Sir Winstons seven-inch cigars gently to keep the ash from falling.

A thick cloud of smoke hangs in the air as foreigners and Cubans compete for the coveted title. Last year, the contest was won by Cuban Olivia Terri who managed to accumulate 6.6-inches (16.7 cm) of ash before it crumbled.

Cuban cigar festival
Cigar sommelier Daylin Lopez competes for the longest ash during the XVII Habanos FestivalAlexandre Meneghini/Reuters
Cuban cigar festival
German real estate agent Michael Schaftle smokes a cigar as he competes for the longest ashAlexandre Meneghini/Reuters
Cuban cigar festival
Yasmin Gonzalez smokes a cigar during a competition to see who could make the longest ashJoe Raedle/Getty Images

The Festival del Habano takes place against a partial detente between Cuba and the US, allowing more Americans to travel to the island and legally bring back small quantities of the coveted cigars for the first time in decades.

Under the new rules, US travellers are now allowed to bring back up to $100 in combined tobacco and alcohol products, a lot less than the $3,000 to $4,000 that some Canadian, European and Chinese tourists spend on cigars and rum.

American tourists can smoke as many cigars as they like while on the island, and can now return with a few five-packs of Montecristo #4 (sale price: $27.75) or Cohiba Siglo I ($34.50) without violating the cap.

Cuban cigar manufacturers expect to double on-island sales of hand-rolled cigars, known as "habanos," from three million to six million this year.

Cuban cigar festival
A worker smokes a cigar while making them in a cigar factoryJoe Raedle/Getty Images
Cuban cigar festival
A woman keeps up a tradition of reading the daily news aloud as workers roll cigars in a factoryJoe Raedle/Getty Images
Cuban cigar festival
Elegua, a representation of a deity made of tobacco leaves, is seen inside the Corona cigar factoryEnrique de la Osa/Reuters
Cuban cigar festival
Michel Gonzalez, 39, rolls cigars at the H Upmann cigar factory in HavanaAlexandre Meneghini/Reuters
Cuban cigar festival
Plastic bags containing belongings of the employees of the H Upmann cigar factory hang under photographs of Fidel and Raul Castro, Ernesto 'Che' Guevara and Camilo CienfuegosAlexandre Meneghini/Reuters
Cuban cigar festival
Newspaper clippings showing former Cuban leader Fidel Castro are seen at the desk of a cigar rollerJoe Raedle/Getty Images
Cuban cigar festival
Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Cuban cigar festival
Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Cuban cigar festival
Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Cuban cigar festival
Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Cuban cigar festival
Yamil Lage/AFP
Cuban cigar festival
Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Cuban cigar festival
Joe Raedle/Getty Images

David Savona, Executive Editor of "Cigar Aficionado" magazine, said: "American cigar smokers have been denied the opportunity to legally buy a Cuban cigar for more than 50 years. There's a certain built up desire to try a Cuban cigar for cigar smokers and I think even non-cigar smokers alike. People want to reach out and try a Cuban – who maybe haven't had a cigar before just because it's the forbidden fruit and they'll want to give it a shot."

"Cuba's the birthplace of cigars. When you think about Cuba, you can't help but think about cigars. The premium cigar industry was born here, they do it very, very well. And when they're at their best, they are absolutely superb. It's a wonderful wonderful product," said Savona.

Cuban cigar festival
Delegates smoke during a masterclass on how to hand-roll a cigarYamil Lage/AFP
Cuban cigar festival
Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Cuban cigar festival
A cigar enthusiast smells a tobacco leaf at a rolling lesson during the XVII Habanos FestivalAlexandre Meneghini/Reuters
Cuban cigar festival
Waiters stand by as delegates participate in the cigar smoking competitionJoe Raedle/Getty Images

Almost 600,000 visitors travelled to the island from the United States last year, a figure that includes mostly Cuban-Americans on family visits but also tens of thousands of people on legal educational and religious exchanges. The number is expected to rise, though it's still unclear by how much.