Land use conversion typically implicates deforestation and fragmentation of primary land cover types, which invariably translates into impoverishment of both natural and cultural capital. Understanding where conversion is taking place crucially underpins sound environmental policy instruments to prevent these enormous social and economic costs. This paper examines 30 years of semi-detailed (1:250 000) land cover mapping in Mexico. Pre-existing analogue databases describing land cover patterns in the 1970s and 1990s were reviewed, corrected, reorganized and transformed into a digital format. Current land cover patterns were depicted by conducting updated reinterpretation on Landsat ETM+ imagery. Digital cartographic overlaying was performed and the results were used to construct a spatially explicit land use/land cover change (LULCC) database with an additional accuracy assessment procedure. The value of the results of this analysis is also seen in the light of their direct applications for identifying critical watershed trends, for guiding the allocation of financial funds for sound land use planning and for assessing the effectiveness of established protected areas. This effort highlights the importance of new and more effective geographical approaches to depict, understand and contribute to informed measures to mitigate ongoing negative trends in land cover and climatic changes.