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The small French Key has one of the best preserved reefs on the south coast of the island of Roatan. This lagoon with translucent waters sheltered by a coral reef is ideal for snorkeling. Although it is not easy to access (and there is almost always an entrance fee), the abundance of fish, lobsters and coral make it one of the most beautiful snorkeling spots on the island.

French Key coral reef, Roatan
French Key coral reef.

How to go snorkeling at French Key?

French Key is near French Harbor. From Coxen Hole or the airport, head north-east along the main road for 6 miles or so. The French Key reef is accessible either by the privately owned islands of Big French Key and Little French Key or by the Fantasy Island Resort.

The latter option is the best because it gives direct access to the reef, but in all three cases, you need to pay for admission to the site for the day (from $30 per person). The resorts also offer 2-hour snorkeling packages including equipment, transport by boat, and one or two snorkeling stops from $25 per person (on top of the daily admission fee).

It is also possible to rent swimfins, masks, and snorkels for about $10 per day. It is difficult to get to the reef by other means unless you rent a boat.

French Key Roatan snorkeling map

How to get into the water for snorkeling French Key?

The best option is to enter the water from the main beach of the Fantasy Island Resort. You can also swim to the reef in a few minutes from Little French Key. If you are on a tour, follow your guide’s instructions.

French Key snorkeling tips and recommendations

The area to explore covers a strip of about 50 yards wide along the inside of the barrier reef between the Fantasy Island Resort and Little French Key. The depth of the water is the same throughout the area (↕3-6ft/1-2m). The area shown on the aerial shot can be extended to the west.

If you swim from the Fantasy Island Resort beach, you first come across sandy areas before the first coral appears (mainly leafy coral) and grows denser. The coral is in calm waters, protected from the waves, and is unusually fine.

You will soon spot large shoals of grunts living near the coral beds. Move closer to the reef and you will come across a large number of lobsters, which are seldom to be seen elsewhere, nestling in the crevices in the rocks and given away by their white antennae.

But the rocky shelter is also the chosen home of much more fearsome creatures. Dozens of lionfish have taken up residence in the reef. Sometimes, in groups of 3 or 4, they rest in the shelter of the coral. They are highly elegant, with their wing-shaped gills, and not aggressive, but you should not touch them as their sting is dangerous.

School of grunt at French Key
Several different species of grunt and snappers use to school together on the reef.

Here more than anywhere else, you should avoid placing your hand on the rocks or setting foot on the sea bed, and stay continually alert. Lionfish are an invasive and voracious species that causes great damage to the underwater life of the Caribbean (unlike in the Indian and Pacific Oceans, their original home, they have no known predator in the Caribbean).

Killing them is authorized in all Roatan reefs. As you continue to explore, you may also see reef squid, spotfin butterflyfish or bar jacks. It is not unusual, in the deepest area behind the reef, to come across small southern stingrays, but they always swim off straight away into the ocean blue, darting above the sand and the seagrass.

Permit at French Key
A huge permit encountered on the reef, followed by a small bar jack.

You will probably be surprised by the clearness of the water, highlighted by the white sand beds. The shallow waters make this an ideal spot for underwater photography.

Restaurants & accommodation near French Key

The resort provides meals as part of the package or outside it. This is the only food and drinks on site.


  • Level required Beginner
  • Protected areaSandy Bay-West End Marine Reserve
  • Maximum depth8ft/2.5m in the lagoon, 20ft/6m in the channel
  • Water entranceEasy, from a sandy beach
  • Potential DangersMany lionfish, boats in the channel
  • LifeguardNo
  • Visitor numbersMedium
  • Access costsAdmission fee (from $30 pp.)
  • Restaurants nearbyYes
  • Public toilets & showersNo

MAP Spot

These snorkeling spots are accessible to beginners and kids. You will enter the water gradually from a beach, or in a less than 3ft. deep area. The sea is generally calm, shallow, with almost no waves or currents. These spots are usually located in marked and/or monitored swimming areas. It is not necessary to swim long distances to discover the sea life.

This level only apply when the spot experiences optimal sea and/or weather conditions. It is not applicable if the sea and/or weather conditions deteriorate, in particular in the presence of rough sea, rain, strong wind, unusual current, large tides, waves and/or swell. You can find more details about the definition of our snorkeling levels on our snorkeling safety page.