maps & travel guides

About us
What a great job Perry and I (Laura) have! Is that because we get to explore the Yucatan looking for that hidden gem of a restaurant, or exploring a newly found cave? Well, that's part of it. But the thing we both love most is the reward of helping people get the most of their vacation. We love getting letters from people who's trips were made special by that private tour we told them about, or that little restaurant that only a few locals know about.
Perry spends thousands of hours updating maps each year, constantly trying to make them bettter. While I take care of the business end and try to help answer questions onlne-that's how I ended up with the screen name "MapChick"-friends began calling me that and it just kind of stuck, so much so that the maps are now typically referred to as MapChick's maps. Even though they probably should be called "Perry's maps", we finally gave up and went with the MapChick title.

How we fell in love with Cancun
(and each other)

Perry and Laura at the Tulum ruins Our first trip to Mexico at the
Tulum ruins

Our story goes way back (where do the years go!). Perry and I first started dating around 1980 and frequented a restaurant here in Des Moines, Iowa. Our favorite waiter, Dave (email if you read this Dave) entered a waiter/waitress race at a local festival. A two person team had to carry a tray of beers through an obstacle course and whoever finished with a combination of the best time and the least spilled beer won a trip to some new vacation spot that was being promoted-they called it Cancun. Well our friends won the race and returned with stories and photos of this magical place with turquoise water and white sand. We just had to see it for ourselves.
SIDE NOTE: The festival was named in honor of the fish that strive in the silty waters of the Des Moines river, it was held on a bridge, and called "The Carp Festival". Years later, Perry and I would marry at the Little Brown Church in the Vale, and have our wedding party at the Carp Festival. I threw my boquet to a crowd of strangers from the semi-trailer stage while the band was on a break-we have a lot of great memories of that Carp Festival!

Trip #1: Experiencing Cancun
On our first visit to Mexico we stayed in Cancun at the Presidente hotel (there were only about a dozen hotels in all of Cancun). Nearly all restaurants were located downtown, so we took a taxi to avenue Tulum each night for food. I remember a place called "Blackbeard's Tabernacle" where we often ate and danced, as well as Carillo's, a place we still enjoy. Our only venture outside of the hotel was a bus trip to the ruins of Tulum, back when the main highway was a narrow two-lane road. Jungle on the passenger side would brush the windows the entire trip, and the drivers would fold the mirrors in because oncoming buses passed so losely that the mirrors would hit if left out.
We totally fell in love with Cancun, then people, and of course, the beach.

Trip #2: A new experience

Laura at Ixchel ruins, Isla Mujeres Laura at the Ixchel
ruins on Isla Mujeres
(destroyed by
hurricane Wilma).
On our next trip we booked a room
at the Presidente (our new comfort zone), hung out on the beach the first day, then went on a day trip to Isla Mujeres on the second day. Big mistake! We loved Isla so much, we ended up taking the ferry over every morning, and returning every evening. Everything on Isla fit our budget and pace. We were totally hooked now!

Trip #3: No dinero
We booked a trip for Christmas vacation way in advance, not knowing that we would be totally broke before our departure day finally arrived. In spite of our finances, we went anyway.
We arrived on Isla Mujeres late in the evening the day before Christmas not realizing that every room on the island would be booked (there weren't very many rooms back then anyway).

Luckily, we ran into two German men who had found a room, but it was way over there budget. They offered to share the room if we would pay half of the $12 nightly rate–perfect!
It was a concrete block addition located on the roof of what we think is now San Jorge hotel, directly next to the sewer stack which brought not so pleasant odors into the room when the breeze wasn't blowing. Our new friends explained that we could have the key because they could open the door with their switchblade-can this get any more perfect!
Our dining experience for the entire week was limited to a visit to La Mirtita grocery store for beer, crackers, and bread. Restaurants were out of the question. But on New Year's eve, I told my now very skinny boyfriend (Perry) that we should go out for an evening on the town. With what was his reply? I pulled out a credit card and recieved a look that could have killed. "We've been eating crackers for a week, and you had a credit card!" I guess Perry was a little tired of crackers. We found a restaurant that took credit cards (Gomar's lobster house), and ordered two lobsters. There we sat with parfait glasses full of butter and a plate of lobster tails. When we finished the only thing remaining on the table was a basket of crackers! (In hindsight we probably should have taken those).

Trip #4: Exploring the Riviera Maya

Perry and Laura at the Tulum ruins Perry with backpack in Playa del Carmen (when it was lined with cabañas).
The next year had not blessed us with a better financial situation, but we still had to get to Mexico. We booked a flight, borrowed a tent, and ended up at a small cove south of Playa del Carmen named Chemuyil. Here you could camp for a few pesos per night under towering palms, with the water lapping at the shore right at your feet. The bathrooms were well maintained, and the tiny restaurant with hammocks provided cheap food. On our first night we ordered fish and waited with a lukewarm beer; and we waited; and we waited. The waiter never returned. So we got ourselves another lukewarm beer from the cooler, and waited some more. Finally, after the sun had set, we see our waiter walking up the beach with a mask, snorkel, fins, and speargun. Fresh fish would be served tonight-and as we found out, every night.

Trips #5 through ??: Traveling with children
Kelsey and Perry at the Tulum ruins Kelsey viewing the Tulum ruins in style, while enjoying a sandwich.

Babies never slowed us down, each of our two children played on the sand at 3 months of age. And back then, seeing a blonde, blue-eyed baby was not a common experience. They had to be held by every mother we passed, and one afternoon by a group of homesick sailors who joined us on the beach. They passed our daughter around and talked of their families back home until the sun began to set.
The kids are older now and a little tired of being drug to every corner of the Yucatan, but they have a lot of stories to tell. The monkeys, snakes, crocodiles, bats, sharks, whale sharks, good food, bad food, HOT sauce, friends and even a few new aunts and uncles.
About the maps/guides

It kind of drives us crazy that the product we sell is a map, because it is actually a complete travel guide printed in a map format. In fact, we originally set out
11 years ago to create the best travel guide ever made. After writing most of the product, we decided that it needed a good, detailed map-something missing from other guides. But how do you make a detailed map that will fit onto the pages of a travel guide? impossible. It was then that we realized it would be much easier and more convenient for the user if we put the travel guide into the map instead.

Our goal
Today our guides are different from others because we base our products on an unusualset of goals. Our goal is to not only share the best restaurants, beaches, and tours, but we also strive to create an extension of your trip.
We want to help you enjoy the excitement of the planning process before you depart. And we also want to make you so comfortable visiting the Yucatan that you'll get away from the hotel and try that rustic seafood restaurant on the beach, or that little taco shop downtown. Laura and I would love nothing more than to have you return to work on a Monday morning and stand around the coffee pot sharing stories of the fishermen you dined with, the cave you explored 9on your own), or the Mayan village you visited. Leaving you with stories you'll remember for years to come would be our greatest goal (and you thought we just made maps!)

How we create the maps
We start by traveling through every street of an area with our GPS. We take readings for every intersection, hotel, and restaurant. We even walk the beach to capture an accurate reading of the shoreline. Those that have been following us for years, will remember the "Map bike" rigged up with a clipboard, GPS, and voice recorder mounted on the handlebars. That bike has been retired, but we still use bikes, rollerblades, golf carts, scooters, taxis, buses, colectivo vans, planes,
a LOT of walking

Perry riding the seahorse in Cozumel The "mapbike"
with clipboard, gps,
and voice recorder
mounted to the
(My GPS tracks every move and I (Perry) typically walk about 10 miles per day--the most was 22.6 miles--almost a marathon).
The next stip in the process is to take aerial photos so we can match our readings to an image. When we return home work begins to combine thousands of latitude longitude readings with hundreds of photos, and hundreds of pages of notes to create the final product. Everything is drawn on the computer using Adobe Illustrator, in a process that takes no less than 6 months for each new map title (updating a map takes 1 to 2 months).
To review restaurants we actually have to dine at them,
Perry and Laura at the Tulum ruinsThe GPS software
plots an exact map
following our every
typically eating at 8 to 12 restaurants each day. We don't tell the restaurant what we are doing, we just go in as hungry diners and pay when we leave (some writers try to get free meals and hotel rooms out of the deal). We take tours, and turn down dirt roads to see where it leads (often to an amazing little attraction).
Of course, most of the work is done back at our home in Iowa, where we meticulously draw every hotel, swimming pool, and try to correctly render the location of hundreds of rental properties (that's the most difficult part).
Once we finish writing and illustrating it comes down to hours of proofreading for errors, then sending it to our professional proofreader (you're the greatest Angie!) for
a final look to fix all those misplaced commas (this new website will be going to Angie as soon as we finish).
Perry and Laura at the Tulum ruins Alec helping proofread our first guide of Cancun.
Notice the newspaper format? This was one of our first design concepts, a newspaper size, full-color, travel guide that would
allow us enough space for detailed maps.
Obviously Alec wasn't impressed!

A memorable mapping trip
Below is a report from a 1999 mapping trip, the photos are long lost, but the story is still rather humorous.

Day #1
I made arrangements for a taxi driver friend to pick me up at the airport. When I arrived in Cancun, I found that he had taken a few days off to personally escort me around, and he brought his personal car...a Volkswagon beetle. Now, there's nothing wrong with a beetle, except for the fact that I travel with a bicycle and enough computer/camera equipment for a small office. About a half hour later we had miraculously stuffed everything into the bug, and we headed out for the jungle roads south of Cancun. Raul evidently thought his car was a dune buggy, and the VW was quickly dubbed with the knickname "The Mule" for its ability to tackle any terrain.
  Our first destination is an area with small Italian resorts. They lie at the end of a long washed-out road that cuts through a vast Mangrove swamp. Maximum speed should be about 5 kilometers per hour. The Mule however, tackles this terrain at about 40 kilo's per hour. Lizards run for their lives as we race haphazardly toward the beach. One pothole in the road resembles a small pond, and I barely catch my GPS computer as it bounces from the glove-compartment door that I'm using as a desk, toward the open window. We stop, I grab duct tape from my bag (I'm equipped for about anything!) and the GPS finds itself strapped to the glove-box door like Hannibal Lecter to a gurney.
  At the end of the road are several gorgeous little resorts with beautiful beaches. The workers speak mostly Italian, and you can only book these resorts through travel agents in Italy.
  We head north along the beach and find new construction on a quaint little hotel. Bother the construction workers for about a half-hour until they finally gather together and come up with a name for us--"Mayan plus del Caribe". Whether this is the real name or they just wanted to get rid of us I don't know. But that's the name you'll find on the map.
  It's back to the highway as we head for cabanas Aca Maya. This tiny place has two small buildings holding four rooms. They have a restaurant, but you have to order the day before so they can go out and purchase some food. Aca Maya is home of the "pen stealing monkey". This trip I hid the pens, although I am now missing my ATM Card. The young Mayan girl who works here speaks no English and very little Spanish. Her native language is Mayan. As we are leaving a man emerges on the balcony of the main building. His dress, mannerism, and a smoldering cigar remind me of Clint Eastwood in all those old western movies.
  It's starting to get dark so we head back toward Cancun. At this point I realize there is only one thing scarier then bouncing through the jungle in "The Mule" and that's flying down the highway--with a bus on your bumper--in "the Mule". As we are approaching Cancun, Raul questions where I am staying. I tell him my friend Xavier has a hide-a-bed waiting for me. Raul offers me the spare room at his mother's house and even offers to pick up an air-conditioner at a friends house so I am more comfortable. Mexican people are amazingly kind!
  We arrive at Xavier's and the three of us (Xavier, Raul and I) head out for dinner. In Xavier's car (the VW is stuffed with my bike and bags, and we're not quite sure how we are going to get them out). We go to La Placita in downtown Cancun. I have grilled fish with garlic butter, Raul has some type of cheese fondue with habanero peppers, and Xavier just dives into the chips and salsa. Dinner, four beers, and three cokes later, I fork over a mere 80 pesos (about $8 U.S.) and we head back to Xavier's. It takes about a half-hour to get my bags out of the VW. After E-mailing Laura and telephoning Chris (another friend in Cancun), I put the bike together, then crash on the hide-a-bed. It's close to midnight. Tomorrow Raul and I plan to start at 7am and head for Puerto Morelos.

Read the entire story
Cancun map and travel guide
Riviera Maya map and travel guide
Playa del Carmen map and travel guide
isla Mujeres map and travel guide
Cozumel map and travel guide
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Your information source for
Cancun & the Riviera Maya