When I first considered riding to South American from the US, I purchased wall maps of Mexico, Central America and South America. I used these to learn the geography of these countries, as well as to locate all the places I want to visit. Now that my departure date is getting closer, I want road maps, not just paper maps, but maps for a GPS, too. The more I learned about traveling in South America, the more I started thinking that using a GPS would not be the same as here in the US. It seemed that GPS maps for South America were inadequate, lacked detail, and didn't cover areas one would visit. It seemed paper maps were the way to go. While I agree that a set of paper maps are a requirement (one never knows when the GPS will stop working), it would be nice to use a GPS to navigate through a city or through the back roads.
While in Israel several years ago, I learned that even non-detailed maps on a GPS were helpful. The only map I had of Israel was the GPS's base map, which at best displayed the country outlines. That was all I needed to get from the Ben Gurion airport to my hotel on the Mediterranean at 2:00AM. With the hotel entered as a waypoint, I navigated the streets using the GPS's compass page until I reached the hotel. Many times during my stay, it was comforting to know that I was driving in the right direction. Once I had establish a few waypoints and tracks, it was a joy to take off for a drive to some new location. At the end of the day, I'd pick one of my tracks and navigate back to the hotel.
The Map Sets
When looking into the various options for GPS maps for South America, I found there are maps from Garmin, Smellybiker, and a few online sites like MapCenter2. I signed up for the Wanderlust maps and started downloading all the maps I could find. I ended up with:
- Wanderlust versions 1.60 (non-routable)
- Wanderlust versions 2r03 (routable)
- Mapear version 8.0 (routable)
- ConSur GeoRed version 8.02 (routable)
- Project TrackSource TRC-Brazil version 6.02 (routable)
- Garmin WorldMap (Web site preview - Purchased map set is routable)
Garmin makes a routable WorldMap but I wasn't interested in that because I'd seen the samples on their web site and while it covers major roads, details in cities or towns is none existent.
Smellybiker’s Wanderlust Worldmap has been talked about in several online forums as being much better map than Garmin’s WorldMap. Currently there are two versions of the Wanderlust maps, Version 1.60 and version 2r03. Version 2xx is routable; version 1.6 appears to have more detail, but is not routable. I hadn't heard about the other maps listed above, but stumbled on them while reading postings at Horizons Unlimited.
Map Detail and Routing
I started playing around with the maps after loading them into MapSource and was surprised at what I found. These maps are good! I think you would need them all if you want to travel throughout South America, as the map details vary. For example, with the Wanderlust maps, you get a map set that covers the world, and while version 1.6 has a lot of detail, it's not routable. Version 2r03 is routable, but doesn't have as much detail as the other maps. What surprised me the most are the maps from Mapear, CONOSUR, and TrackSource. These maps are simply outstanding. Not only are they routable, but they also have a huge amount of detail. The downside is that they don’t cover every country, so one would need other map sets for countries like Columbia, Brazil Peru, Ecuador, etc.
Below is an example of the difference in detail in maps displayed at a MapSource resolution of 3 miles for Buenos Aires.
Garmin WorldMap - Buenos Aires
Wanderlust 2r03 - Buenos Aires
Wanderlust 1.60 - Buenos Aires
Mapear 8.0 - Buenos Aires
I'm not going to continue the comparison with Garmin's Worldmap in the remainder of the article, because based on what I've seen, Garmin's map is no better than Wanderlust which I've already purchased.
Let’s look at another area that’s not as large as Buenos Aires to see how the maps handle the detail. Below is a view of Concepcion, Chile at a 3 mile resolution in MapSource.
Wanderlust 2r03 - Concepcion
Wanderlust 1.60 - Concepcion
Mapear 8.0 - Concepcion
ConSur GeoRed 8.0.2 - Concepcion
Look at the detail in the Mapear and ConSur maps. This was a huge surprise as I had not expected this from free maps! And, these maps are supposed to be routable which I just had to check out next. Below is the same view of Concepcion, Chile with a start and end waypoint added, letting MapSource calculate the route.
Wanderlust 2r03 - Concepcion Routing
Wanderlust 1.60 - Concepcion Routing
Mapear 8.0 - Concepcion Routing
ConSur GeoRed 8.0.2 - Concepcion Routing
These maps do handle routing, though the routing differs based on the detail of the map. In Wanderlust 1.6, the route is a straight line between two waypoints. This is as expected because version 1.6 does not support routing. If this was the only map you had, you could place multiple waypoints along a road and be routed from waypoint to waypoint. That's how I used the early Loran system to navigate when flying in Alaska. You could also just set the end waypoint and use dead reckoning to reach your destination.
I noticed that the details contained within a map set changed based on location. For example, at Buenos Aires, Wanderlust 1.6, Mapear 8.0 and ConSur GeoRed 8.0.2 had the same level of detail. At Concepcion, ConSur GeoRed 8.0.2 has the best detail, followed by Mapear 8.0, while both versions of Wanderlust had far less detail. Moving to San Rafael, Chile, Mapear 8.0 has the best detail, followed by ConSur GeoRed 8.0.2.
Below, I added some waypoints around San Rafael, Chile to see how routing works with the city streets.
Wanderlust 2r03 - San Rafael Routing
Wanderlust 1.6 - San Rafael Routing
Mapear 8.0 - San Rafael Routing
ConSur GeoRed 8.02 - San Rafael Routing
Again, the routing works as expected. Mapear 8.0 provided the most map detail as well as better routing.
Mapear and ConSur GeoRed maps both provide coverage for Argentina and Chile, with Bolivia and southern Peru being included in ConSur GeoRed and Paraguay included by Mapear (but not Bolivia or Peru). For Brazil, the only map I found was Project TrackSource's TRC-Brazil. It's detail is excellent in eastern Brazil (guess there are not a lot of roads in the Amazon).
Looking at Montes Claros, Brazil, the detail is just as good as Mapear and ConSur GeoRed have for the areas they cover. Below I've included images in resolutions of 3 miles, 0.7 miles, and 0.5 miles (with routing).
TRC-Brazil 6.02 - Montes Claros
TRC-Brazil 6.02 - Montes Claros
TRC-Brazil 6.02 - Montes Claros Routing
I checked the accuracy of the maps by creating a waypoint in MapSource and displaying it in Google Earth. Every waypoint I checked display accurately in Google Earth. Does this mean the maps are accurate? I sure hope so!
Google Earth Waypoint
Wanderlust Country Maps
With the introduction of version 2r03 it appears that Smellybiker is releasing a world map set, as well as country maps. The web site indicates that the country maps have more detail and are routable. I loaded the Wanderlust 2r03 Country map for the UK which has a great deal of more detail than the Wanderlust WorldMap. If this level of detail was in the WorldMap for South American, or if South American country maps where available from Smellybiker, it would make map selection much easer.
Wanderlust 2r03 UK Country Map - Birmingham
I have Garmin City Navigator Europe 2008, so I compared this to the Wanderlust UK country map and the details around the Birmingham area appear to be similar.
Garmin City Navigator Europe 2008 - Birmingham
Moving a little south to Henely In Arden, the detail in not as good with in the Wanderlust map.
Wanderlust 2r03 UK - Henely In Arden
Garmin City Navigator Europe 2008 - Henely In Arden
I enjoy seeing and using a world map and often find myself using the Garmin Trips and Waypoint Manager map set while in MapSource. This map set does not have any GPS downloadable map segments, nor does it support routing. It's really just a high level planning map.
Garmin Trips and Waypoint Manager
With this in mind, the Wanderlust map set is a good addition as you have better detail in version 1.6 than the Gamin maps and you can download selected map segments to your GPS. Unfortunately, version 1.6 does not support routing. Wanderlust WorldMap version 2r03was released at Smellybiker on 4 April 2009; its detail is lacking, but it does support routing.
The other three map sets are necessary because of their high level of detail and support for routing. It's too bad that the details vary in the Mapear and ConSur maps, as this means you may need both sets based on where you are traveling. For Brazil, the only map I found was Project TrackSource's TRC-Brazil version 6.02.
I plan on bringing all the map sets mentioned above with me on my trip to South America. I still need to find decent maps for countries like Ecuador, Venezuela and Colombia, as well as Central America and Mexico. I'll be using paper maps too, but a good street level GPS map can be very handy after a long days ride when all you want to do is get to a hotel, grab a beer and unwind.
These maps do have a lot of details and appear to cover much of the country. WIll they work for the trip? I guess I'll find out.
What I would like to see is a single map set that combines all the details of the various maps and includes routing. This way you would only need to download/purchase a single map set; Wanderlust version 3 maybe??
Update: Review of the GPS maps for Venezuela
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