Here is a great tip for expats to see their property online: Google Earth finds it using the catastro (plat map) of the parcel provided by the real estate agent. Google Earth has come a long way since it started. Back in 2005, there was very little high-definition photography available for Costa Rica, but today there is much more, and some of it is really impressive.
Some of the sections in high-definition are a bit dated, but they still provide a good guide as to the location of a property parcel. In order to see the date of any high-resolution frame provided, one just needs to roll their mouse over it and look at the bottom right corner of the Google Earth screen.
Costa Rican plat maps coordinates are based on the Lambert system. It is impossible to take the numbers in the ubicación or localización section — both meaning location in Spanish — of a plat map and find its location in Google Earth without doing some heavy-duty calculations first. The Lambert system is a conic map projection frequently used in aeronautical charts. In other words, it is a measurement derived from a mathematician’s calculation when a curve — as in the earth’s curve — intersects with a flat surface, like a flat map. Google uses longitude and latitude.
The location section can be found on all plat maps prepared in the past 40 or 50 years. Very old maps do not have this section because the hojas cartográficas (cartographic charts) were not created in the country until the late 50s and early 60’s. The coordinates in the location section on older maps may not be accurate either, since surveyors did not have very good equipment to measure them in the past. Even today, some surveyors use obsolete measurement devices, which do not provide precise information.
Catastros don’t have a designated area for the ubicación section. Surveyors usually place it wherever it fits on the map, thus to find it one just needs to look thoroughly until spotting a small area containing a grid. The grid has numbers on the top and on one of the sides, usually the right side. The top numbers represent the Lambert X coordinate and the side numbers the Y one.
Now, here is the secret to changing those numbers into something Google Earth can use. A person named Tomas de Camino Beck created a simple calculator to convert Lambert into decimal latitude and longitude values, which can be used in the “fly to” section in Google Earth. Download the calculator HERE!
This calculator is contained a zip file with the name convertcr; it is totally free of viruses or spyware. It is a simple device, nothing fancy. Users can download the zip file and extract it to the desktop, but it only works for Windows. A click on the program will run the calculator. The first thing that pops up is a welcome screen, then click on continuar (continue) and the calculator will be displayed.
Here is an example of how to use the device in Google Earth:
Using the map in the picture above, enter 552000 on the Lambert X field and 200000 on the Lambert Y field. The calculator will then return the decimal values 9.81692529625514 for latitude and -83.8593293754473 for longitude. Users should change the option setting for Google Earth to accept decimal values instead of degrees or minutes and then enter the numbers in the “fly to” section of Google Earth as 9.81692529625514N, 83.8593293754473W. The Google Earth system will move to the grid section above where points 552 and 200 intersect. The area in the above picture is just outside of Orosi, a city East of San José and slightly South of Cartago.
Location numbers on Costa Rican plat maps are based on Costa Rica’s cartographic charts, which use grids and the numbers they generate. The country also has Lambert North and Lambert South areas. All charts in the country can be found HERE!
This is a neat way for people to find property for sale in Costa Rica without having to leave their desks.
There are currently many investment opportunities for real estate in Costa Rica due to the world’s financial crisis. Expats interested in buying property should do their research and take nothing for granted, including the property’s location.
When interested in a piece of real estate, they should always ask for the catastro and, if possible, the GPS coordinates. Real estate agents usually have the former but not the latter. GPS readings are much more accurate, but if one only has a plat map to work with, the property can also be easily found with Google Earth.