Find Your Way Around Costa Rica or Anywhere with Avenza's Geo-PDF Reader

OK, I admit I was first attracted to this Geospatial PDF stuff because 1) it’s geeky and 2) it’s free, free, free. Well, at least two frees, one for the Avenza PDF Maps app itself and another “free” for it being an Android app (it works as well for iPhone, iPad and iPod touch version 5), so I can use it on my generic tablet.

geospatial pdf map of western costa rica
Sample Geo-PDF map of W. Costa Rica
The reader is a terrific way for travelers to explore new terrain and share their finds with others. If you are an expat in a country where good maps are hard to find or expensive, or you like to get off the beaten path, Geospatial PDF is a boon.

What’s Geospatial PDF you say? Glad you asked. Wikipedia describes it thusly: 

“… a set of geospatial extensions to the Portable Document Format (PDF) that relate a region in the document page to a region in physical space …”  Plus a bunch of über-geeky junk about metadata, ISO 32000, blah, blah, blah.

To boil it down, it’s a way to represent maps in PDF, which, lucky you, enables reading and editing such maps for your own purposes. On a touch device, you can render a map then use gestures to navigate it, zoom in and out, pan, add notes, symbols or pictures, measure distances and areas and even locate yourself on the map using the GPS in your device. The Avenza reader also understands GEO Tiff images as well.

This stuff puts my dashboard GPS unit to shame! But, wait, there’s more:

  •   All maps can be used offline, so no need for an Internet connection to find your way around.
  •    When you add anything, such as waypoints, pictures, etc. and save the map, you can then share it with others via iTunes, Dropbox, email, etc. What a great way to leave behind breadcrumbs on your next trip for someone else to follow.
  •   When you have a map open, even one that is very old, such as an historical map, you can use Google Maps to locate landmarks on the map you are viewing.
  •  All changes can also be exported as KML (for Google Earth), CSV or GPX formats.

Avenza has a online map store with literally thousands of maps in stock and dozens of new maps being added every day. The vanilla browser map store is way less impressive than the Apple App Store or Google Play interface, but it gives you an idea of what’s available.

You can make your own maps and sell them in the map store if you are so inclined. Search for maps by keywords, popularity, categories or use your built-in GPS to tell the store to find maps around your current location.

I plan to wrest control of my wife's Android tablet more often to use this app for our trips both local and beyond!


  1. Thank you for sharing C.

  2. Thanks didn't know about Avenza maps, I will try them! So far and WAZE have worked for me in Costa Rica.


Thanks so much for your comment! - Casey