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Maps.me

  • Price: Free
  • Available at: Apple apps store, Google Play store, Amazon.com

Upon arrival recently at John Paul II Airport in Ponta Delgada, I fully expected the European data plan that I arranged for through my Canadian service provider to kick in.

No such luck. Whatever was supposed to happen, didn't.

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So now what? My intention was to use a nav app on my smartphone to guide me and my rental car around this picturesque little island. Waze and Google Maps both rely on data to provide directions, and with real-time traffic updates.

Fortunately, however, Maps.me doesn't. Instead, this free app functions brilliantly offline (no costly data roaming plan needed) – using GPS technology bounced off satellites, like an old-school TomTom or Garmin device – pinpointing your location on a map while guiding you with turn-by-turn voice directions. Traffic updates aren't available, but here, that wasn't an issue.

Maps.me was a lifesaver as I accurately navigated much of the back country of Sao Miguel. However, like many GPS systems, it too, was occasionally quirky.

Case in point: While headed to Chá Gorreana, a tea plantation located near Maia, Maps.me instead guided me off the highway at Porto Formoso, taking me through this tiny little town and its steep, narrow streets. Eventually, it corrected itself, but not without directing me along a rural dirt road that, upon turning right, caused me to stop and contemplate life. Ahead was a ridiculously steep incline, with a wall to the right and a deadly sharp drop-off to infinity to the left. The road (if you can call it that) was not much wider than my Ford Fiesta. Not wanting to contemplate the mostly bad possibilities, I thrust the car into first gear and floored the gas. The next 10 seconds or so is mostly a blur and, as the car crested the top of the incline, there was the highway.

The tea plantation was just another three-minute drive along it. That detour had tested my nerves and had cost 20 minutes.

Hey, whaddya want for free?

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