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Costa Rica: three favorites of Brenda van Gestel

Brenda van Gestel lives and works in Costa Rica. She shows you three favorite dive sites in her ‘backyard’.

Playas del Coco, Costa Rica, is where the Dutch Brenda van Gestel lives with her husband Martin. The two are both PADI Course Directors and the owners of Rich Coast Diving.

It was not the plan for the two to get into the diving business, let alone Costa Rica. Brenda and Martin had a restaurant on Curaçao and plans to travel further to Asia. But suddenly a diving school came their way. The deal was sealed over dinner: with only PADI Advanced in their pocket, they had a diving school. So work on the shop. They had to work hard and soon became instructors. The dive shop was a success.

Five years later it started to itch – they wanted to move on, new plans were made, but first they went on vacation. They didn’t get any further than Costa Rica that trip. We are now writing more than 17 years later; they are still there and Rich Coast Diving is now a PADI 5* CDC.


“The Spanish name says it all: this dive site is always a surprise. It is a deep dive on volcanic rock. You hardly find coral there, but it is a paradise for nudibranchs. Even after all these years, we come across new snails here that we have never seen before. Freediving Miami is found online. The surprise is all the greater when you’re looking for a nudibranch and suddenly come across a shark, which swims quietly by and doesn’t even notice that a few divers are looking for the smallest critter in the ocean. But my best experience at Sorpresa was meeting a mama humpback whale who proudly swam around with her calf as if to say “Look what I’ve got”. Yes, there is no shortage of surprises on Sorpresa.”


Bat Islands

“This is actually the diver’s paradise! Bat Islands has 2 dive sites – Big Scare and Black Rock. Big Scare gets its name from the large bull sharks that come there to mate. Sometimes it seems they don’t even notice that we are there. They swim around 100 feet and the males swim past you hurriedly. It’s just a super experience. When we come to the deco and come shallower again, we are usually lucky that the Giant Pacific manta glides gracefully through the water above us.

After a surface break full of shark stories, we jump off the boat atop Black Rock. Characteristic of this dive site is the gathering of fish, you see so many that you very often can’t spot your own buddy. Jacks, grunts, but also spotted eagle rays and groupers. This trip is seasonal, we do the first dives in May, and then it ends in November.”

— My best experience at Sorpresa was meeting a mama humpback whale. Very proudly she swam around with her calf as if to say “Look what I have” —



“This is more like our house reef, it is a ten minute boat ride away and it owes its name (turtle) to the rock formation above the water. Underwater there is a small wreck that is visited not only by divers, but also by white tip reef sharks and regularly large turtles. It is an easy dive and you see a lot. In addition to the wreck, there is also a canal with caves, where young sharks can almost always be found. Usually it is the white tip reef sharks, but more and more nurse sharks. Along the rocks you will also encounter a lot of puffer fish and when I say a lot, I mean a lot! For me, it was the impetus to write the PADI Puffer Fish specialty.”