Map Types

Map types

A map is a total or partial representation of the earth’s surface that is made following a metric scale. For this reason, although it is a symbolic representation of a territory, it is quite exact in relation to the indicated proportions.

There are several types of maps depending on their use. They can be referential or general maps, which serve as a guide to identify a place or to get to it, but there can also be thematic maps, for educational or informative purposes.

General maps

They are representations of geographical, political or cultural characteristics of the earth’s surface. The best known and most used general maps are:

political maps

They are a type of reference map that shows the borders or political-territorial divisions between countries or units of territory within a country such as provinces, states, municipalities, communes, among others.

When a political map shows the entire surface of the earth, it is called a world map.

geographic maps

Also called physical maps, they represent the geography of the earth’s surface or a part of it. This means that reliefs, mountains, bodies of water, volcanoes or geographical features can be seen in them.

Geographic maps usually only represent natural elements, however, they can sometimes show the political-territorial division of the area shown.

topographic maps

They are representations of the different heights of a piece of land, called elevations. The different levels of height are represented with symbols called curves or level lines, which give an idea, to scale, of the reliefs that a given geographical area presents.

In addition to the natural formations that cause the differences in levels, topographic maps can also show formations created by human beings: roads, streets, buildings, among others.

hydrographic maps

They are a type of geographic map that represents the bodies of water on the earth’s surface (rivers, lakes, lagoons, seas and oceans). Hydrographic maps generally do not indicate depth limits. When they do, they are called bathymetric maps.

These types of maps are a fundamental tool of hydrography, a science that is based on the description and study of the bodies of water on the planet.

 geological maps

As its name indicates, this map indicates the geological characteristics of a certain area. These characteristics can be:

  • Terrain anomalies, such as a swamp or mineral buildup.
  • Stream flows of underground water bodies.
  • Presence of rocks.
  • Geological faults: they are separations between blocks of tectonic layers. Their movement can cause tremors or earthquakes.
  • Presence of minerals.

These variables are essential to know possible geological risks, and are used in the construction industry, mining and scientific research.

geochemical maps

They are used to represent an accumulation of metallic minerals in the subsoil, which is why they are widely used in the mining industry.

These accumulations can be detected when the surface rock layer shows certain anomalies, such as a change in color. Once it is verified that these rocks have a metallic mineral concentration, the ground is drilled to confirm if there is indeed an accumulation of sufficient minerals to be exploited.

bathymetric maps

They are representations of the different levels of depth of the bodies of water. To represent these levels, contour lines, reliefs or colors are used. These maps, also known as bathymetric charts, would be the hydrological version of topographic maps.

Bathymetric maps are used in navigation and are useful in underwater construction projects.

soil maps

Edaphological maps are also known as soil maps and are used to project the distribution of different types of soil and their respective characteristics in a given geographic area. This information is relevant for the agricultural, mining, construction industry and for research projects.

rainfall maps

Rain gauge maps record the levels of precipitation (rainfall) that have occurred in a given geographical area in a given period, generally a year.

The recorded data is used to generate climatological studies, to plan agricultural calendars and to prevent natural disasters.

Geological risk and hazard maps

They are maps that represent anomalies, characteristics or events that can become a danger to the area in which they are located. Generally, geological risk and hazard maps indicate:

  • Ground slides.
  • Geological faults (they can show danger of earthquake).
  • Previous or potential flood zones.

Risk maps are very useful in urban planning projects and in the prevention of natural disasters.

Zip Code Maps

They are maps that are used to delimit the areas covered by a postal code. Due to this, its main use falls on postal service and e-commerce companies, which must organize their shipments based on this code to track the packages to be delivered.

Time zone map

They are a type of map that indicates the 24 time slots in which the Earth is divided. Each of these bands, represented in the form of vertical bands, covers different territories that share the same time zone, so the map helps to locate the legal time of those areas more easily.

economic maps

They reflect the economic activities carried out in a given territory. Their usefulness lies in the fact that they allow quickly locating the areas or the type of activities that generate wealth in the area studied.

These data can be used in the creation of public policies (such as the collection of data for the creation of an employment plan) or education (understanding what the productive activities of a region are).


They represent events that took place in the past, which is why they are used as a reference to understand the context in which the studied phenomenon developed. Historical maps can be of two types:

  • Synchronous: they show a particular historical period. For example, a map on the political-territorial organization of Europe during the French Revolution.
  • Diachronic: they show the changes or evolution of a phenomenon in different historical periods. For example, the trend of voters in Mexico City in the last 20 years.

 orographic maps

They are maps that show the differences in relief of a territory, such as the elevations and depths of a piece of land. They can also show mountain systems, if any. The differences in relief are usually illustrated with green, yellow and brown colors, resembling the conditions of the terrain.

These types of maps are one of the tools of orography, which is the branch of geography that describes the characteristics of the soil and subsoil. They are used for scientific research or to plan infrastructure works.


It is a photographic composition of a part of the earth’s surface, created from high-quality aerial or satellite photographs, called orthophotographs, which are characterized in that they lack the deformations typical of traditional camera lenses. For this reason they are representations as valid and useful as a traditional map.

thematic maps

They are representations of aspects or events that are found or occur in a given territory. To elaborate them, a geographical map is used as a base, and on this the thematic content is designed to indicate the phenomenon studied.

Depending on the type of data displayed, thematic maps can be:

  • Qualitative: when they describe characteristics, for example, a map that indicates the types of birds that can be seen in a specific area.
  • Quantitative: when they offer numerical values, for example, a map showing the population density of a rural area.

Depending on the theme or phenomenon they represent, thematic maps are classified into:

road maps

They are maps that indicate the existence of highways, roads and streets within a specific area. Although the use of paper road maps was very common among long-distance drivers and commuters for a long time, today the most widely used road maps use satellite technology, such as Google Maps.

urban maps

They are a type of thematic map that records the main characteristics of a city, such as streets, avenues, places of cultural interest, public institutions, hospitals, police stations, etc.

The level of detail of urban maps has increased thanks to the use of satellite technology and its use is very common today to locate addresses or places.

demographic maps

They express the distribution of the population in a specific territory. Differences in population density are usually represented with colors or with symbols, such as oval or circular geometric shapes. They are also called population density maps.

linguistic maps

They are representations of the different languages ​​spoken in a geographical area. They are especially useful in places where, in addition to the official language, other languages ​​are spoken, a common phenomenon in indigenous communities or isolated populations.

climatic maps

They represent the climatic conditions of a region. They serve to appreciate the variations of the climate and the formation of microclimates (climatic patterns of a reduced area). Digital technology is currently used to identify and disseminate, in real time, the status of the different variables that affect the climate, they are the following:

  • Temperature.
  • Atmospheric pressure.
  • Chance of rain.
  • Wind speed and direction.
  • Atmospheric humidity.

Climate maps are used in navigation, agriculture, aeronautics, in the prevention of natural disasters, among others.

Revenue Maps

It is a representation of the income of the inhabitants of a territory according to a certain variable. For example, income distribution in a city according to gender, age, type of profession, among others.

These data are generally obtained from national censuses, although they can also be obtained through mass surveys or data provided by government tax collection institutions.

electoral maps

It is used in local or national voting processes. The electoral maps show the level of voter participation, the projections of results and, at the end of the process, they can include a summary of the total number of votes of a municipality, province, state or city.

When they are designed for audiovisual or digital media, the electoral maps are updated as the election day progresses.

Natural resource maps

They reveal the distribution of natural resources in a region, city or country. For example, existence and distribution of diamonds, gold, iron, bauxite, precious stones, gas, oil or forest reserves, to name a few resources.

This type of maps is used for governments to be aware of the available resources and generate policies based on their exploitation or preservation.

birth maps

Presents the number of births that occurred in a given place and period. These data are usually extracted from censuses and statistics from national health authorities.

Knowing the number of births in a specific area allows population density projections to be made. With this data, governments can take long-term health, economic or infrastructure measures.


They present tourist-type thematic maps that show the places of interest in a city, region or locality. These places can be natural areas or constructions created by man (such as emblematic buildings or monuments). They can also show specific events, such as festivals or parties.

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