NAVIGATION OR ARE WE THERE YET?
“If you don’t know where you are going, any road will lead you there” unknown
Navigation with GPS
Navigating through Africa is a great challenge. Unlike N. America where you are virtually guaranteed that any map you purchase is current and reliable, using an African map is in itself a new adventure. A this point there does not seem to be any issues with obtaining reliable maps for Central and South America
There are two types of maps:
There are a wide variety of paper maps available for Africa. These range from cartoon like schematic tourist maps all the way to highly detailed and accurate topographic maps created by defense and past colonial government mapping agencies.
I found that the most accurate maps available are
- The series prepared by the US defense mapping agency, but they require map reading skills to use and are somewhat dated.
- ITMB Publishing (International Travel Maps and Books) located in Vancouver; Canada has an excellent selection of maps. Can be bought on-line
- Michelin has some very useful large scale maps and there are also a wide variety of country maps available.
It is advisable to purchase a few different maps of the countries you intend to visit since each map will have different information. Village and roads have come and gone over the years and translations of places/towns/villages etc vary from map to map. It is easier to actually purchase many of these maps in Canada or your home country. Don’t rely on buying the necessary maps in Africa. They either don’t exist or are out of print. Do not under any circumstances believe the status of the road as portrayed on the map. There maybe absolutely no relationship between what condition the road actually is in and what any particular map may have it categorized as. There are almost no reliable city maps available, since African cities grow very fast and the street names have changed over time to reflect the historical leadership of the country. So give yourself time to get to know a city, be patient and enjoy the chaos. Your paper maps will be used a lot so take tape for mending maps, Ziploc bag for storing maps and a light magnification map-reader.
In African cities the expensive hotels often have city maps for their guests and will often give you one for free, if you ask nicely and smile.
Most overlanders make extensive use of digital navigation (GPS based) systems. However the availability of accurate digital map data for Africa is limited.
Since we use the Garmin for digital tracking (276C while traveling in the cruiser, and a 60C, which is portable and therefore great for hiking) it is the only system I am familiar with. There are other commercially available GPS systems such as Magellan, Tom Tom etc. which, you may be more familiar with. It is advisable to learn how to use your GPS before heading off.
For the Garmin/Mapsource combination there is a detailed set of digitized maps available only for South Africa which you can purchase from Garmin, install and is immediately ready for use. For navigation through the rest of Africa, the Garmin world map, which comes installed on your Garmin is quite useful,
It is the best digital navigation aid (especially for East Africa) is “Tracks 4 Africa.” Their digitized data is available online from their website and is extremely affordable, highly accurate and full of interesting and useful information. It is especially valuable in many of the game parks where the unmarked trails are all digitized, so you can focus on game viewing instead of keeping track of your location. (Note: Tracks 4 Africa is also viewable as a layer on Google Earth free.)
Nobody goes to Africa without Tracks4Africa, especially east Africa.
Customized digital mapping system;
Paper maps have useful navigational data such as topography and land descriptions that the digital does not and the digital data is in a form that is GPS trackable. It would be ideal therefore if these two formats could be combined into one user friendly computer compatible system. This is in fact quite doable and can be quite affordable depending on what you think you require. A digitized and calibrated mapping system for all of Africa was developed by Tom and has many helpful functions such as route planning, way point creation, 3D viewing, and route tracking and many other useful annotating and management functions. This mapping system is linked to our GPS for real time positioning. If you want some technical details about this system please contact us through our website.
“We took the road less travelled now where the hell are we?”