Monday, October 17, 2022

Put this Peruvian city on your South American itinerary

Arches overlooking the city of Arequipa, Pery

We arrived in Arequipa in southern Peru and were met at the airport by our guide Beatrice, native of the city, and driver Roberto. We soon saw why Peru’s second largest city is called “white city.” Many buildings (homes, palaces, churches, convents) were built with sillar, white volcanic rock found in abundance in the area. As the historic center, it contains many colonial-era buildings, primarily churches and convents, built during the 400-years of Spanish domination from 1452 through the 1800s. 

Volcanoes nearby

Arequipa means “behind the mountains,” an apt name since the city is located at the foot of volcano Misti, a city icon. It’s near the Valley of the Volcanoes, which contains more than 80, some still active. In fact, the topography is very dry and rocky, resembling what I think the moon’s surface must look like.

Mountains and volcanoes surround Arequipa.

There’s great variety in the climate, geology, and ecology. Although it’s located in the middle of the Peruvian desert at 7800 feet, ash from volcanoes makes it a fertile agriculture center for crops like onions, garlic, and grains. 

Arequipa encompasses centuries of history of the Peruvian Highlands. Its archeological heritage, Inca legacy, and older cultures have left an indelible mark on culture, customs, art, and the city’s development. Industries include alpaca wool factories, cement factories, and copper mines.

White volcanic rock used for buildings

Convent reveals city’s history

Santa Catalina Convent, founded in 1579, is one of Arequipa’s most visited sights. Beautiful chapels, squares, and streets that retain original styles and vibrant colors of orange, blue, and red make this a must-see. Calle Sevilla, the oldest and longest street, retains the look of Arequipa from the 16th century, when the convent was essentially an entire city.

Carmen, our guide, explained that the Dominican convent was populated by many second daughters, who were expected to become nuns while oldest daughters married. The nuns lived on one side of the wall, and the public (town) was on the other side. They took vows for silence, work, and prayer, coming at age 12 and training till age 16.

There were 80 different apartments; wealthier nuns had better places, and poorer nuns might be their servants trying to work off their dowry. In addition to other duties, nuns embroidered robes and other finery for priests.

Santa Catalina Convent 

Tiles on the floor of the convent were in the original Santa Catalina church. Faith-based artwork from the 18th century was restored in 2006, and 100 paintings are displayed in the art gallery. Today entrance fees go to the nuns for upkeep of the property, which is now a museum and tourist attraction. The nearby square is a busy commercial area where arches along the streets add charm to the trees, paths, and fountain in Plaza de Armas.

Tourism is growing

We visited the main square in Arequipa where arches, each decorated with quotes from important people, look over the city.  The first cathedral in the region is here, indicating an important transition from Inca to Catholic religion. The ancient Grau Bridge is a famous landmark over the Chile River. Peru just became a democracy 30 years ago, but with more than a million people living in the country, tourism is actively pursued.

A fun fact: It’s cheaper to take a taxi than to drive around the city, so there’s plenty of business for its 48,000 taxis.

Exterior of Hotel Casa Andina in Arequipa

While in Arequipa, we stayed at Hotel Casa Andina Private Collection, a restored colonial-era house with original stone flooring. Rooms in the old section have stone walls two feet thick, small windows, alpaca blanket, 10-light chandelier, and flat-screen television.  A new part of the hotel was built behind the former Spanish mansion.  Wicker sofas and chairs invite guests to lounge in an open sitting area. A full buffet breakfast was served outdoors by the main courtyard of this charming hotel located within walking distance of many attractions.

 Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier

Saturday, October 1, 2022

New proposals to protect air travelers

If you have flown in commercial airplane in recent months you may have had a flight cancelled or significantly delayed. Vouchers that are good for only a year have been the standard way airlines compensated travelers—and we all know that is far from equitable. The voucher can only be used towards a future flight on that airline and the amount must be used on one flight, essentially giving the airline an interest-free loan and leaving the customer without their cash or any recourse. Getting a refund from an airline is practically impossible.

The U.S. Department of Transportation has recently proposed new rules for airlines that could work for the benefit of fliers. The public has until November 21 to offer comments that will hopefully bring about changes to protect the rights of travelers and help ensure they get timely refunds they deserve. If you wish to contribute to the discussion please do so at  docket number DOT-OST-2022-0089

The proposals include four key objectives:

1.      Require airlines to provide refunds if the departure or arrival time changes by three or more hours for a domestic flight or six or more hours for an international flight.

2.      Require airlines to provide refunds when the airline changes the passenger’s departure or arrival airport or adds stops to an itinerary.

3.      Require airlines to provide refunds when the airlines cause “a significant downgrade” in the travel experience by switching to a different type of plane.

4.      Require airlines to provide future travel credits that never expire when passengers can’t travel for health and safety reasons during a pandemic or because borders are closed.

The rules would also apply to tickets that are typically non-refundable, including lower-priced basic economy fares.

If enacted, the new regulations “would be the largest boost to traveler protections in years,” said Scott Keyes, founder of flight deal tracking service Scott’s Cheap Flights. After the 90-day public comment period, the DOT will consider feedback and decide how to proceed. 

Of course, airlines and their lobbyists will have plenty of opinions, which might lessen the impact for some of the proposals, so any public comments supporting the proposals should be extremely helpful in ensuring a good outcome for fliers.

Still, airlines would not be required to compensate passengers when the passenger initiates a cancellation or flight change for uncovered reasons. The only case where airlines are required to provide assistance is when a passenger is “bumped” from a flight due to it being oversold.

“Americans expect when they purchase an airline ticket they will arrive at their destination safely, reliably, and affordably,” Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg wrote in a letter sent to heads of the major U.S. airlines in August.

These proposed rules come on the heels of a 34.9 percent increase from May to June in air travel service complaints from passengers to the DOT.  In fact, complaints are nearly 270% above pre-pandemic levels, not surprising considering the number of flight cancellations and disruptions in recent months. Passengers were often severely inconvenienced when airlines sold flights they did not have pilots, staff, and ground crew to properly operate.

Buttigieg even suggested that airlines should provide meal vouchers for delays of three hours or more and lodging accommodations for passengers who must wait overnight because of disruptions within the carrier's control. Didn't that used to be the norm?

For information about airline passenger rights, as well as DOT’s rules, guidance and orders, visit the Department’s aviation consumer website at

Photos from free sources.