Occasionally, dive spots come along that stand out above the rest. They are often far from the epicenter of diving and take some commitment to access. But the payoff is usually well worth the effort. The scuba diving in Tela, Honduras perfectly fit the bill for a great under-the-radar location. My underwater navigation skills are on point, but even so, Tela had me swimming in circles. The colossal size of the reef absolutely captivated me.
Tela is southwest of the Bay Islands, Roatan and Utila, both the top destinations for divers visiting Honduras. You can get to Tela by taking a ferry or airplane to the mainland from the Bay Islands and then a bus or taxi from San Pedro Sula or La Ceiba. The trip will take you between 2.5 and six hours, depending on the route you take.
Scuba Diving in Tela
If you’re diving in Honduras, take a weekend or a few days to dive in Tela. Note, however, that you can only dive for six months in Tela — from April to September, give or take a month on either side. During the winter, low visibility, winds, and currents restrict most diving activities.
Tela Bay remains quite undeveloped, with only one dive shop. Tela Marine is a PADI dive center open to certified and non-certified divers. If you want to complete a scuba course, check ahead to make sure an instructor is available before your arrival. Because the reef is fairly shallow, dives typically last 60 minutes or longer.
The Tela reef
The best way to describe the Tela reef is to close your eyes and imagine you’re sailing the Caribbean on a pirate ship hundreds of years ago. You find the perfect cove to anchor your boat and then hop in the water. What you would see then is how you are seeing the reef today —that’s how old and intact the reef really is.
Tela Bay is 24 miles (38 km) wide. The coral reef runs parallel to the coast in a thin band, in the center of the bay. The reef starts around 33 feet (10 m) below the surface, and corals cover the ridges down to 66 feet (20 m). The best diving however, is between 40 and 52 feet (12 to 16 m).
Thin, leaf lettuce coral covers the ridgetops. It’s so abundant that it easily overpowers slower-growing coral like gorgonians. Colorful Mycetophyllia cactus corals and the happiest great star corals I’ve ever seen dot the sides of the ridges.
What really stuck with us about this reef was the sheer volume of coral. In a 2015 survey, Tela boasted over 70 percent coral coverage. It’s safe to say, though, that some parts of the reef feature 100 percent coral coverage. When you look through the cluster of lettuce coral you can see more corals growing beneath them.
Why is the Tela reef so healthy?
The reason might surprise you. Tela has an unusually high number of black long-spined sea urchins, Diadema antillarum. These spiny echinoderms are the perfect reef cleanup crew, with a voracious appetite for algae. Before 1980, the urchins covered the entire Caribbean. But in 1983, the urchins underwent a mass mortality and populations plummeted by as much as 97 percent.
Therefore, a leading theory on why the reef in Tela is so healthy credits the abundance of Diadema inhabiting the reef. Researchers are studying ways to rear sea urchins and reintroduce them to degraded Caribbean reefs.
We loved Tela so much that after a few days we decided to extend our trip another month. And to our good fortune, we explored new reefs. I was lucky enough to have a reef named after me. While diving in Tela might not be for everyone, if you are a coral enthusiast and want to see how a Caribbean reef should look, it’s time to add Tela to your bucket list.