GPS in Brazil

By Mark Taylor
The title of this article refers to Global Positioning Systems, although that&rsquot;s a relatively general term but has been adopted for use with systems that are used for route finding (also known as Satellite Navigation, or SatNav). These are still relatively rare in Brazil where technology is a little slower to arrive than say North America and Europe, as well as being compounded by cost (making it not so economic to sell systems here), and the size of Brazil.

All GPS router finders work in the same way, in that they use several satellites to obtain a latitude and longitude fix, which they then relate back to a map and/or route system. This means you need some form of pocket or standard personal computer, with a built-in or separate receiver for the GPS satellite signal. Devices can vary from the completely customised e.g. those hardwired into cars that you can only use for GPS activities, through to laptops, desktops or pocket PCs.

Route maps are produced by very few sources around the world as they require significant investment to create and maintain. The maps used by Google Maps come from Navteq, as I suspect do most including those of Brazil.

I first owned a TomTom route finding system in the UK a couple of years ago, so when I came to Brazil I was really keen to find an equivalent. TomTom is one of, if not the best system out there for this type of activity, at least for the general public, as it&rsquot;s very easy to use. Unfortunately TomTom doesn&rsquot;t cover Brazil, and only covers part of Europe and North America. So I investigated alternatives and initially hit a brick wall. Nobody seemed to know anything about GPS systems in Brazil, and the usual Internet search methods were finding little. What did become apparent though was at least one system was available, Destinator (produced by Destinator Technologies), in which you buy the main software program and a Brazil map pack. There are at least two versions of Destinator available: for the Pocket PC (Destinator PN, Personal Navigator) and Windows “Smartphones” (Destinator SP, SmartPhone). Only Destinator PN supports the Brazilian maps though, for reasons that aren&rsquot;t apparent but are typical of the somewhat confusing GPS world. I have a mobile phone that supports Destinator SP, but as this version doesn&rsquot;t work with the Brazilian maps so wasn&rsquot;t much use. Fortunately a friend had bought and tried a Pocket PC and not got on with it, so gave it to me. This allowed me to try out Destinator PN which does work with the Brazilian maps, in conjunction with a Bluetooth GPS receiver.

Destinator PN comes on CD, and you first install the host program on to your PC, which you then use to copy the program on to your Pocket PC. Similar to most Pocket PC installs. From the host program you then choose which maps to upload to the Pocket PC. Destinator on the Pocket PC is similar to TomTom, although it feels like a “little brother” version when it comes to features and general use (I&rsquot;m still sad that TomTom don&rsquot;t cover Brazil!). In terms of maps Destinator suffers a little simply due to the immensity of Brazil. Street maps are only offered for São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Porto Alegre, Belo Horizonte, and Curitiba. A map for major roads, such as rodovias, is also given, although this exhibited problems (more detail on this below).

Destinator has a main mapping screen which you can change views on, from 2D to 3D (which is where TomTom excels, but Destinator is poor), as well as a Bird&rsquot;s-Eye view. You can also opt to show turn-by-turn directions, as well as a direction list. Settings are relatively basic, but you can opt between metric and imperial, as well as what to show in the map status bar e.g. velocity, altitude, ETA/ETR, latitude and longitude, and distance. This information changes on the status bar, and it&rsquot;s a shame they didn&rsquot;t snag a little more map real estate so this data could be shown permanently. You can also configure the map so that it follows the direction you&rsquot;re moving, or stays facing north. Another option allows you to enable or disable the ability to do U-turns, which can be a fundamental requirement in Brazilian city driving. You can also set Destinator so it warns you when you are over the speed limit, although I&rsquot;m not sure the speed limit data is accurate, and the warnings can get irritating.

Some screenshots from Destinator PN using a US map

When it comes to the “meat and potatoes” aspect of navigating to an address it&rsquot;s relatively straightforward. You just need to choose the region for the city (when using a street map) e.g. Guarulhos, enter the first part of the street name, and then the number (if required). Destinator computes the route in a few seconds, and then you just follow the directions. Directions are both spoken and can be shown visually on the map screen, or switched to a direction list view. The map screen is most useful though, and gives you an appreciation of how far you are from route changes and what they are likely to comprise of. When it comes to choosing a destination you can also choose from the Point of Interest (POI) database, which is relatively limited but includes restaurants, bars, cinemas, hotels, and a few other categories. Of course it&rsquot;s hard to know how correct this data is, particularly in Brazil where some establishments can open and close relatively frequently. Also you need to know the name of the POI you are after, you can&rsquot;t opt to just find the nearest restaurant like other GPS systems. The POI data does show up by default on the map screens, which can be helpful. Other destination options include contact data from the Pocket PC, although in practise it failed to interpret the address data correctly. There&rsquot;s also a favourites list, which allows you to record all those places you visit regularly, and a history list for recalling past destinations. For advanced routing you can set waypoints and avoid certain roads.

In practical use driving with the São Paulo street map it works quite well. Like any GPS system there are quirks to the routes it chooses, which may not be the optimum route you&rsquot;ve found over years or even days of trying, but it will get you there (my father still can&rsquot;t understand why when using TomTom in the UK it doesn&rsquot;t choose the route he has always used). Also there are some roads in São Paulo which are parallel, yet separate, and this can cause confusion in terms of Destinator knowing which one you should be on and where to turn off. I&rsquot;ve even used Destinator to locate where I am when walking around São Paulo, but there are obvious security concerns of walking around with a Pocket PC in hand, as well as on obvious display in the car.

The general Brazil map, with the rodovias, had some problems though. On a trip to a relatively local city from São Paulo the map data didn&rsquot;t match the actual road position data, and we ended up in “space” for a significant portion of the journey. It isn&rsquot;t clear why the map was so inaccurate, as the road had not been moved due to recent construction. But using a combination of zoom and common sense the route was sill relatively obvious.

So that&rsquot;s a somewhat detailed summary of Destinator PN, and use in Brazil. I&rsquot;m already aware of and their software, but I&rsquot;ve not used it. If you&rsquot;ve used Apontador or come across other GPS products that have maps for Brazil I&rsquot;d be interested to hear of them, and any comments you have about using them, which you can email to I will add the comments to the article.

Edit: Subsequently I have been told about another site that sells GPS equipment,, and been made aware of MapLink Destinator (which appears to be just another version of Destinator as above).

Readers Comments:

Thank you for your article on GPS in Brazil. I spent a few months there and plan to return. I looked for a system numerous times and was unable to come up with anything. Now when I return, I will be ready.

Again, thanks for your effort.

BTW: I discovered your article from Google Maps.

— Roy

First of all, thanks for providing us with good articles/newsletters.

I have searched the web my self for GPS solutions in Brazil, as I have a Tom-Tom (in Denmark) and I just love it!

So when I travelled to Brazil, São Paulo, Rio etc., I really would have liked the GPS to help me find my way in the heavy traffic.

I since I will be moving to SP in late June, the subject is ever more important for me.

From my search, I only found which has the same kind of “stand-alone” devices as TomTom, but they only cover SP, Rio, Belo Horizonte and the roads in between.

I will probably be getting one, since I won’t really be able to speak to anybody in the beginning.

Update: After reading your article yesterday, I searched the web some more. There is actually a dealer of Garmin’s “stand-alone” products in São Paulo:

This is probably the product I would go for.

— Morten

Since this article was written, the GPS possibilities in Brazil have improved considerably. There are a number of handheld GPS units now available with Brazil maps. And although they don&rsquot;t cover all of Brazil, there have been recent expansions in coverage.

I&rsquot;m sure the writer and others will be pleased to know that units from Quatro Rodas, Ndrive, Navisystem, Airis and other sources are available. Originally GPS mapping for most of these units was restricted to Rio, São Paulo and mainly cities in the south. But it has been expanded to included other capitals, such as Salvador. I believe many of these use maps from Tele Atlas, which has recently improved its Brazil digital coverage. I suspect that&rsquot;s why street level coverage of cities such as Salvador has recently surfaced on a number of these devices almost simultaneously.

I live in Salvador and have been anxiously awaiting GPS devices with street maps for the city. They have arrived, and I am now happily using an Ndrive product to navigate what can often be a confusing city in which to drive.

The bad news is that these remain expensive when compared to similar products in North America and Europe. But with a widening range it is now possible to purchase a portable handheld GPS mapping device with Brazil maps for under R$1,000. These are suitable for mounting in a car with included mounting brackets. On the other hand, you can still pay more than double that if you wish.


Previous articles by Mark Taylor:

Brazil: PCC Attacks in São Paulo
Brazil: Tips on Buying or Renting an Apartment or House
Brazil: A Critical Sensitivity
Cleanliness is next to Brazilianiness
Brazil: Manners
Brazil: No Change, No Sale
Brazilian TV
Brazil: Ubatuba
Brazil: Professional Children
Brazil: We deliver… everything!
Brazil: Terrao Itlia
Brazil: A Layman’s Carnival Guide
Brazil: Portunglish or Engluguese?
Brazil: Feira Food
Brazil: Bilhete Unico flexibility increases
Brazil: Finding Work
Brazil: U2 Ticket Chaos
Brazil: Finding Work
Brazil: Termites
Brazil: Queues, Queues, Queues
Brazil: Let’s Go Fly a Kite!
Brazil… the Film That Is
Brazil: The Bus to Nowhere
Brazil: Piracy
Brazil: Gestures
Brazil: Proclamation of the Republic
Brazilian Film Review
Brazilian Film Review
Brazil: Finados (Day of the Dead)
Interjections, exclamations and onomatopoeia in Brazilian Portuguese
Brazil: Halloween
Brazil says “No” to banning firearms
Brazil Humour: Phone Etiquette
Brazil’s Gun Referendum
Brazil: Scams
Brazil: Moby Review
Brazil: Keeping in touch via the Internet – Part 5
Brazil: Keeping in touch via the Internet – Part 4
Brazil: Avril Lavigne at Pacaembu
Moby in Brazil
Brazil: Keeping in touch via the Internet – Part 3
Brazil: Keeping in touch via the Internet – Part 2
Brazilian Film Review
Brazil: Keeping in touch via the Internet – Part 1
Brazil: First season of Lost repeated on AXN

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