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Friday, 9 January 2015

Mapping Tale in South America : Ecuador

After visiting Venezuela for 14 days, I visited Andean country of Ecuador. The name of the country is the living memory of French geodesic expedition of 1700s. While the purpose of my travels wasn't about mapping, I manage to integrate some mapping elements into the trip.

Instituto Geografico Militar (IGM)

IGM is the official state mapping agency of Ecuador and by reading the name, you have an idea that is under Ministry of Defence. It is perched on a southern hill in Quito (the capital) and many locals may associate IGM with the planetarium which is next door to the IGM building. As this is military area, you are required to carry your identification card and park the car according to military standards (you face car front to the road).

I visited IGM on two purposes: To obtain maps and Ecuadorian atlas and secondly, to get a proper contact within IGM. The previous day, I visited Cotopaxi which is the most famous volcano in the country. I was looking for topographic maps of Cotopaxi. It was Thursday morning and the counters were severely understaff. Most of the people walking around happens to come from the Ecuadorean military. I waited for my number and IGM was a paradise for map lovers. There was a huge (I mean huge) topographic map of Ecuador (1:500 000) - click on the link here (choose Mapa Fisico del Ecuador). Me and my friends spent our short time observing we have traveled for the past two days and where would we be going after IGM. My friends were attracted by aerial photography of key geographical sites in Ecuador which were found on the walls.

The time came for me to ask the staff what was the index number of maps of Cotopaxi. I have to purchase two maps (1:50 000) to get complete outlook of Cotopaxi - each costed around 3.60 USD (which is very cheap). This is where things got bit frustrating for me and my friends. The buyer of the map pays in one counter and get a receipt. Then, we need to queue and present the receipt to the plotter. It is UNFORTUNATE to see that they do not have existing printed maps of Cotopaxi. This costed our time at the office. Since the map produced is around A2 size, I have requested the plotter staff to fold it. He pointed to me to go to another counter where we present the receipt and get the staff to fold the maps. Finally, we sign off at the receipts that IGM has completed the works we need.

So next time you visit IGM and to purchase the product, please allocate some time for the printing and folding of the product.

I was told that IGM do not publish the national Atlas of Ecuador in print. However, you can view the digital version here : . Got to GeoEduca, then Nivel Basico, you see the links to National Atlas of Ecuador 2013. Everything you need to know the Ecuador is in the atlas.

Back to the topographic maps of Ecuador (only basing 1:50 000), I noticed some interesting things:
i) The maps they sold to me were outdated (currency was ranging 14 -25 years ago).
ii) These two maps were produced at two different timings. You notice a difference that can't escape from your eyes.
2000 1:50 000 Topographic Map of Cotopaxi

The above map was produced with the collaboration with National Imagery and Mapping Agency (now NGIA) from America. Due to this, it is rarity to see the English legend and glossary presented hand-in hand with the Spanish Equivalent on Ecuadorian topographic map
English-Spanish legend and glossary for 2000 Topographic Map of Cotopaxi
The below map was purely prepared in Spanish and complete in its compilation in 1989. It covered northern part of Cotopaxi.

Mitad del Mundo

Mitad del Mundo from the monument in Quito
What is the reason why Ecuador named as it is? For those who are versed in Geodesy knowledge, Ecuador played an important role in shaping our understanding of Earth's shape. We all know the Earth bulges on the equator. However, many centuries, there was huge controversy and debate on shape of the Earth. Newton stated that Earth bulges on the equator and flattens on the pole (oblate spheroid) while Cassini theory state otherwise. To put an end to the debate, French government organized expeditions to Finland and Spanish colonized Ecuador in late 1700s. The main aim to find any difference between one degree latitude at the higher latitudes and the equator.

If you visit Mitad del Mundo, they have a building dedicated to explore the geodesic history and expedition to Ecuador. I traveled a significant length from Quito to Banos along the Andes. What I was surprised the expedition for geodesic measurement covered far greater lengths than my journey (going to Cuenca).Triangulation involved for the measurement went from one summit to another. One can imagine the difficulty of doing triangulation on steep slopes and clouds obscuring the sightings.

The outcome of the expedition proved the theory of Newton and most importantly, giving the name of the territory to become Ecuador (if not, it may the country could have been named as Quito?). The geodesic expedition brought the Enlightenment values to Ecuador, which was locked in Spanish world. This paved the independence movement in Ecuador and subsequently, kicking out Spanish rulers.

Mitad del Mundo, in theory, situated the equator. There is some discrepancy on the width and exact position of Ecuador. It was surprising to hear that indigenous people came to very close conclusion where the equator is situated.

Today it is a tourist site where geospatial and non-geospatial people visit regularly to experience the two hemispheres (like Greenwich)

Data Solution

As mentioned on the first subheading, I got the chance to visit IGM. As I was traveling with my friends, one of them happened to be an architect. He mentioned to me that when he produce plan for architecture, he digitize the roads manually. He wanted to ask at IGM (since the opportunity) where he can purchase the vector dataset of roads in Quito. Unfortunately, our time was very limited and we didn't get the chance to ask.

Hence, from my years of experience, the solution is open data. That means my friend does not need to fork out money or travel to buy the data. He can do from at home. He just need to know where he can get it. But the challenge, he needs .dwg format (AUTOCAD format). I was thinking to do a conversion from shapefile to .dwg but for his interest, I sought a website that offer ready made .dwg format.

After much search (after return back to Australia), I found a website which offer the data he needs (focusing just on Quito). The wesbite is (For Architects, important!)

All in all, all the mapping elements were covered in one day of my trip in Ecuador. I hope all readers are enlightened by some sites to be visited in Ecuador and some solutions for Architects. 


  1. I am pleased to inform everyone that we [Avenza] have obtained some of the Ecuador maps and that they are now available in the PDF Maps digital map store and can be immediately downloaded for use on mobile smartphones and tablets.