This article is from the June 2005 The Mexico File newsletter.
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Mapping Mexico

by Perry and Laura McFarlin 

Perry and Laura McFarlin from Iowa have been traveling to Mexico for several years. They are the owners of Can-Do Maps and Guides, and you can see their work at www.cancunmap.com  and at www.mapchick.com  

We started out as many people do by going to Cancun on vacation, a place hardly anyone knew about around here when we started in the early 1980's. We immediately fell in love with Mexico and started exploring the area more, backpacking down the coast, camping on the beach, just taking in as much as we could during our week-at-a-time stays.

One thing we always heard from other Mexico travelers while sitting in the airport waiting for our return flights home was that they wished they could stay longer – because they had just figured out the bus system, money, food, etc., about a day before they had to go home.  

So, the thought of a guidebook hit us. The first step of the guidebook would be to draw a map. Perry is a graphic designer, so the thought of doing the visuals came first. After drawing the first map, we decided to make this a guide map, with all of the information right on the map, instead of writing a book to go along with the map. It took Perry two years, working in his spare time, to complete our first Can-Do Cancun Map and Guide. Our first map was printed in 1997. Our goal was to show everything on our maps – all of the hotels, restaurants, tourist attractions, etc. We have never taken any kind of advertising, so every place we could find ourselves is on the map. Perry would bring his bicycle down with a GPS (global positioning system) mounted to the handlebars and ride everywhere collecting information. By this time we had two kids, so Laura’s role was to help with research and sell our product.  

Once the first map was printed and stacked up in boxes in our house, we had to figure out how to sell them. We set up a website, something we had never done before, and started selling maps online using the “honor system.” Back in 1997 most people were wary of giving our credit card information over the Internet, and so were we. We still sell our maps on the honor system and people really appreciate our systems based on trust. Here’s how it works – you place your order, I mail it out, and you send me back a check. It’s pretty simple. (Of course, we do offer a PayPal option now for those who want to pay that way.) We still have a lot of people who think we’re crazy for using an honor system.  

We searched the web for Cancun-related websites and talked with webmasters who would exchange links with us or let us purchase advertising banners on their sites. The success of the maps has more to do, however, with our customers and “word of mouth.” People would receive their maps in the mail and then go to the Internet message boards and talk about the maps and our honor system – and it was then that many more people started ordering. We now have a loyal following of map customers who will purchase all five of our maps each year. We update the information on the maps yearly – but things change so fast in Mexico that we can hardly keep up. We make sure, however, that the information on the maps is as current as possible.  

Our map line has expanded. We now have maps of Cancun, Riviera Maya, Playa del Carmen, Cozumel, and Isla Mujeres. We are currently working on two new maps – a Cozumel Dive and Snorkel Guide and a Chichen Itza Adventure Guide. Also, this year we made a Mexico calendar ( www.cancuncalendar.com ).

It’s still just the two of us full time. Perry was able to leave his job as a graphic designer two years ago and devote all of his time to making maps. We enlist friends who live in Mexico to do some research for us – especially with trying restaurants, because we just can’t eat everywhere. We’re trying to get as many restaurant reviews as we can on the maps now, and to add some fun to the maps, we do some margarita testing. But we can’t do this all on our own because of all the areas we now cover.  

Perry doesn’t bring the bike down anymore, but he does use rollerblades to update the Cancun hotel zone. Along with the GPS, he also relies on aerial photographs for the maps. Each year he goes up in a plane with AeroSaab out of Playa del Carmen and shoots thousands of photos of the coastline.  

We have two kids, a boy, 9, and a girl, 14, who have grown up going to the Yucatan and who share our love of this area. We hope one of them will want to carry on the map business someday – and let us retire on the beach!