In late 2016 Google improved “Maps Offline” eliminating the last reason to spend $10 or $15 a day for the GPS add-on when renting a car in Costa Rica.
How Do Offline GPS Maps Work?
You need three things to navigate by GPS – 1) A network of satellites broadcasting the current time, 2) a receiver that can interpret the signal from several satellites to determine location, and 3) a digital zoomable map to display the current location and calculate routes to other locations.
Until recently the maps and routing information had to either, One) be purchased as a complete package for Costa Rica from Garmin, Navsat etc. or Two) downloaded a little bit at a time for the area of interest using a cell phone data plan.
Option one was expensive for Costa Rica with map and data package purchase prices between $80 and $150 and rental options starting at $10 per day.
Option two could also be expensive because zoomable routing maps are big and phone data can be costly. Downloading was also unreliable because the most likely place to be lost (the middle of nowhere) was also the most likely place a phone would display “no service.”
Now you can have the best of both worlds for free!
Most phones, smart watches and some tablets (and probably most new toasters) have built in GPS receivers and now Google provides an excellent map and routing package for free download. Once you save the Google offline map package you can use your device to navigate even when there is no wifi or cell signal available.
GPS signals are on a different frequency and originate from satellites instead of cell phone towers so they will still come in strong even when you’ve got zero bars. GPS signals are funded by U.S. taxpayers and there is no charge for receiving them.
Setting Up Free Offline GPS for Costa Rica
While you are connected to the internet (preferably via wifi because you’re going to download a lot of data)
Step Zero – Make Sure Your Device has GPS
There are devices that are capable of showing your approximate location using only cell tower information, ISP data, and wifi network info. GPS is a completely different system that doesn’t require phone or internet to operate. f your device doesn’t have a GPS chip it will only know where it is when it’s connected somehow.
There are tens of thousands of different phones, tablets and phablets and no way we can provide instructions for determining the capabilities of each. If you don’t know if your device is GPS enabled try googling it or checking the owners manual.
Step One – Install Google Maps
If you’re using an Android device Google Maps is probably already installed by default. For Apple and other devices search application store for Google Maps.
Step Two – Download Costa Rica
In Google Maps
- open the menu (three lines left of the search window) and select “Offline Areas”
- tap the “+” to add an area
- zoom and move to highlight the area you want to save then select “Download”
- if the area you’re interested in doesn’t all fit in the highlight you may need to repeat step 3
The app may vary depending on the device and OS so if the above doesn’t work click “Tips & Tricks” in the menu and then select the instructions for “Using Maps Offline.”
The maps and data necessary for turn-by-turn navigation will be stored on your device for 30 days. Other information like photos and videos in the local listings for hotels, restaurants and other points of interest is not available in offline mode. This is done to conserve storage space on your device.
While the road maps and routing in Google Maps is typically as good or better than a dedicated GPS (EasyFind, SmartWays, Navsat, Garmin etc.) the locations of a few points of interest is horribly wrong.
Verify your hotel location especially if you think it’s an eco-lodge and it shows up in the middle of town. The most common problem with the data is assigning hotels etc. where the precise location is not know to the nearest town just to make sure they are included. This also happens with the purchased data and rented GPS units but it’s more common in the free data.
WAZE and Offline Maps
Google has started adding WAZE information (real time updates on traffic, speed traps, construction etc.) to their standard maps but this requires a cell data or wifi connection and is not available in offline mode.
If you have a data plan for your phone or device we highly recommend using the live WAZE app instead of or in addition to the free Google downloads. The live traffic information is invaluable.