Six Tips For Destroying the Competition in Geoguessr

I just discovered the insanely addictive Google-maps-based game Geoguessr. If you’re not familiar with it, the game picks out a random Google street view location and you have to figure out where you are. It’s essentially a role-playing game where you pretend you blacked-out and/or were kidnapped by Carmen Sandiego, and woke up in a strange place on Earth. The closer you guess to the correct location, the more points you get. Sometimes you get placed on a busy interstate and can easily figure out your position, other times you’re on a desolate highway or on a small winding forest road which looks like it could be anywhere in the world. These 6 simple hints will allow you to zero-in on your location quickly, or at least ensure that you’re not guessing the wrong hemisphere.

1. Google Street View’s Range

Despite Google’s seemingly endless panopticonic abilities, they still have only mapped a small portion of the world’s streets. This information is by far the most important thing to know as it literally cuts your guessing options in half. It also explains why you’ll get a ton of locations in Brazil, the US, and Canada as opposed to other places in the Americas. Check out this map.

Street View

Think you might be in an African country? Bam! This map narrows your choices to about 3. Just placing your guess within South Africa will guarantee you about 2000 points.

2. Traffic patterns

Considering you’re placed on streets (most of the time), traffic can be a great indication of which country you’re in, and if there isn’t any traffic then you know you’re in some desolate region (northern Canada). Pay attention to which side of the road people drive on. If it’s the left then you just narrowed your choices dramatically. Given the range of Google street view, the left handed traffic countries you’ll encounter most are South Africa, Botswana, Australia, New Zealand, Great Britain, and Japan. And the good news is the last two look nothing like each other or the other four. If there’s no traffic easily visible, then check to see which side of the road the signs are on. Check out this map to see the traffic patterns for each country.

3. Old vs. New Google Street Photos

Like knowing Google Street View’s range, knowing which street images were taken in lower resolution is also helpful. Street View has been a project since 2007, a year when people still mentioned the VCR like it was a thing, so it’s no surprise that the quality of Street View pictures has improved considerably since then. Therefore, if you get stuck with a grainy and blurry patch of road, chances are you’re in a country that was one of the first to get Street View. That narrows your choices to primarily the US and Australia, and primarily in an unpopulated area that Google deemed not important enough to warrant an updated Street View.

4. Flora

When you think you’re in Canada or Russia but have no clue where, a quick glimpse of the trees can be very handy and save you hundreds, if not thousands of points. Look to see if the trees are mixed or strictly coniferous. If you have an entire forest of Christmas trees then you’re near the Arctic, the more mixed it is the further south you are.

Take a look at these maps to see where deciduous forests and coniferous forests are.


5. The Cyrillic Alphabet

Sometimes figuring out a country’s language nearly guarantees you big points in Geoguessr – see a sign in Italian and you’ll never be off by more than half thousand kilometers. However, see a sign in Russian and you still have half a world to navigate. That’s where knowing the most basic Cyrillic characters is really handy, it’s also extremely easy as half the characters are recognizable Latin characters and the other half have Latin counterparts. For instance, the Cyrillic C = Latin S, B=V, P=R, and H=N. For a more complete transcription, see this chart.

Just know the most minimal characters will allow you to read signs like “POCTOB” and know that you’re near Rostov, instead of merely seeing it as some alien language.

6. Know the big differences between similar-looking places

Australia vs. South Africa

This difference can be hard as hell to spot if you’re stranded on a dusty red deserted highway. Both have similar geographic features and are at about the same latitude. Both also have similar road signs, but the differences in them can definitely help you out. First, look at names of towns – if they’re Dutch or German sounding then you’re in SA , English or silly-sounding and it’s Australia. Also look for signs of animals crossings – South Africa (and Botswana) will have buffalo and cattle signs posted along the roads and you’ll occasionally see a kangaroo sign in Australia.

Spanish vs. Portuguese

Latin America is huge, and guessing a place in Spanish-speaking Mexico when it was really Portuguese-speaking Brazil will ruin your game. If you take 5 seconds to look at a sign and learn the subtle differences between the languages, you can narrow your choices immediately. Take this difference between the Spanish and Portuguese words for “information:” Spanish – información, Portuguese – informação. In fact, if you see a word ending in -ção, then that’s a dead giveaway that it’s Portuguese.

US vs. Canada

If I had a nickel for every time I thought the plains of Saskatchewan were the plains of Texas and vice versa then I’d have at least enough to use a phone booth in 1978. In other words, it’s damn hard to tell the difference between the two. One easy way is to find the speed limit as Canadians abide by the kilometer and Americans use the mile. Other signs to look for are general density (US plains are empty, but not nearly as much as Canada. If neither of those work, then look to the sky and see if the clouds look more northern (that’s the best description you’ll get from a non-meteorologist).


10 thoughts on “Six Tips For Destroying the Competition in Geoguessr

  1. I think I am right in saying that although the sun rises in the east and sets in the west in both hemispheres there is an apparent difference in it’s track. In the northern hemisphere it appears to go via the south while in the southern hemisphere via the north. I have tried to use this in geoguessr with limited success. Has anyone else tried this?

    1. I’ve definitely not tried this and couldn’t say whether it’s true or not. I find that the problem of trying to figure out whether you’re in the north or south hemisphere is quite minimal as there are other more obvious giveaways like language. If others have tried this I’d love to hear it as well just out of curiosity’s sake.

      Good comment either way.

    2. The sun is always my first go-to. If it’s in the west or east it may be tricky to decide since you don’t know the time of day, but around noon it will be either in the north or south, and then it’s a quite easy and quick way to figure out what hemisphere you’re on. Just remember it may be unreliable if it’s not directly to the north or south and not that high in the sky, as it may rise and set quite a bit north or south of east or west if you’re further from the equator

  2. One thing I have learned from this addictive activity is how to know which hemisphere I’m in. But, I’m still getting totally lost in Russia. Sure, I can pronounce some of the text on signs, but often, I am just clueless.

  3. I have just found Geoguessr and love it. I just wish that if I make a wrong guess it would tell me where it is. not just some random place in Europe

  4. Just today I did a little elimination.

    The red pointer on the compass points north. There was snow on the peaks and the sun was not very high even though it was just east (right) of true North. Road signs were in English with driving on the Left.

    Sun to North: Southern Hemisphere
    English, left-hand driving: SA, Botswana, Australia, New Zealand
    Snow on peaks: Tasmania, New Zealand South Island
    Sun low on horizon during late morning: South of 40 S

    Therefore: New Zealand, South Island.

    As to Cyrillic: Letter I: Ukrainian (available in Kiev, Odesa, Donetsk, Kharkiv, Lviv

    Looks like bi without a dot on the eye: Russian, not Ukrainian nor Bulgarian.

  5. In the USA map, license plates can be a big help. (You can also use license plates in the World map to possibly eliminate the USA as a choice.)

    Even though most of the license plates are blurred out, you can sometimes make out which state it’s from, if you know what various USA plates look like. (I play the license plate game in real life all the time so I am very familiar with most plates in the USA.)

    Although it may not be possible to see the actual name of the state on the license plate, you can sometimes tell by its colors or the background (e.g., Vermont plates have a green background with white letters, while most New Jersey plates have black letters on a pale yellow background. Hawaii plates usually have a white background with a rainbow in the middle).

    Another technique I’ve used is to look for cars off in the distance and zoom in on the plate. Sometimes they are actually clearer than the ones that are closer to the camera.

    However, using license plates isn’t fool-proof because you may find a Vermont license plate in New York or vice versa (or some car may be on cross-country road trip thousands of miles away from its home state). In that case, try to find cars in driveways, parking lots, or many of the same license plates in a small area, unless it’s a national park. (And actually, a lot of different plates in a small area may be a clue that the location IS a national park or other tourist destination.)

    Another technique I use is to fine route signs (in that USA, that is). You may be in a rural area somewhere, but some states have the outline of their state on the route sign which can narrow down the area – Texas is a great example. Alabama, Georgia, and Mississippi are others that do this too.

    Want to try a variation of Geoguessr? Try to get the FEWEST points instead of the MOST points. This requires you to pick a location AS FAR AWAY as possible from the actual location (not necessarily as easy as it sounds). You may think you’re in Australia and you end up picking a place in the USA but the actual location was in South Africa. You’re still far away but not as far as you thought.

  6. Namibia is also pretty well covered, along with Botswana and SA. I’ve driven across all three (twice) so it’s easy to pick up clues (left lane driving, signage, paved roads sand roads stone roads). Brazil I’m familiar with too, but it’s tough to pinpoint your location when you’re out in Minais Gerais, Bahia, or Perambuoco regions. Russia is always a guessing game. In the US, real estate “for sale” signs are always a go to for me- gives the area code and a regional realtor, which helps narrow it down. Also- county road signs often list the name of the county- from that I look at the topography to help determine what region I’m in, then research counties with that name.

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