Weatherwatch: Costa Rican altitudes give rise to contrasting climates

Costa Rica may only be two-and-a-half times the size of Wales, but it boasts a wide range of climate zones, because of altitudes rising from sea level to over 3,700 metres (12,000 feet) and coasts on both the Pacific and the Caribbean.

On the western, Pacific side, temperatures are more or less constant, with a daily maximum throughout the year of around 30C, dropping at night to a more comfortable 22C or 23C .

Rainfall, however, is far more variable: like much of Central America, there are two distinct seasons, with little or no precipitation from December through to April, and heavier rains from May to November, totalling about 1,700 mm (68 inches) annually.

The capital, San Jose, lies at 1,150 metres (3,750 feet) above sea level, in the hilly region known as the tierra templada, or temperate land. Temperatures here are also remarkably consistent, though considerably lower than on the coast: from 24C to 27C by day and 14C to 17C at night. As on the coast, the wet season runs from May to November.

But the really special climatic zone here is the cloud forest, so-called because air currents laden with moisture rise up the mountainsides to create a semi-permanent layer of cloud around the forested tops. This unique habitat is home to some of the world’s most sought-after birds, including the colourful resplendent quetzal.

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