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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 has translucent waters that are sheltered by a coral reef and 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.

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

How to go snorkeling in the French Key

French Key is near French Harbor, on the Southern shores of Roatan. It is accessible by one of these three options:

  1. From Little French Key. This day resort sits on the small private cay located at the western end of the lagoon. It is very popular with passengers from cruises, but you can also visit it on your own. Several packages are offered, see more on the resort’s website.
  2. From the Fantasy Island Resort, which is a private island at the eastern end of the lagoon. Staying at the resort will give you direct access to the reef, which starts in front of the resort’s main beach. Check accommodation options on the Fantasy Island Resort’s website.
  3. By participating in a snorkeling boat tour to French Key Marine Park.

The resorts also offer snorkeling tours in the lagoon, as well as snorkeling equipment rental.

French Key Roatan snorkeling map
French Key snorkeling map.

How to get into the water for snorkeling at French Key

The best option is to enter the water from the main beach of the Fantasy Island Resort (water entrance 1 on the map above). You can also swim to the reef in just a few minutes from Little French Key (water entrance 2). If you are on a tour, follow your guide’s instructions.

French Key snorkeling tips and recommendations

The snorkeling area covers a strip that is about 50 yards wide. It is along the inside of the barrier reef between the Fantasy Island Resort and Little French Key. The depth is constant throughout the area (↕3-6ft/1-2m).

The coral reef at French Key.
The coral reef at French Key.

If you swim from the Fantasy Island Resort beach, you will 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 quite healthy.

You will soon spot large shoals of grunts living near the coral beds. If you move closer to the reef,  you will come across a large number of lobsters. They are seldom seen elsewhere and like to nestle in the crevices of the rocks. You can spot them as they are given away by their white antennae.

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 will 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.

In this area, more than anywhere else, do not touch anything and do not step on the seafloor.

Sharptail eel in French Key
A sharptail eel.


The lionfish here are an invasive and voracious species that causes great damage to the underwater life of the Caribbean. Unlike in their native Indian and Pacific Oceans, the lionfish have no known predators in the Caribbean.

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 southern stingrays, too. They always swim off straight into the ocean, darting above the sand and the seagrass.

A stingray at French Key.
Stingrays often visit the sandy, grassy beds of the bay.

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 resorts provide meals as part of a package or to individual customers. This is the only food and drinks on site.


  • Level required Beginner
  • Protected areaFrench Key Marine Park
  • Maximum depth8ft/2.5m in the lagoon, 20ft/6m in the channel
  • Water entranceEasy, from a sandy beach
  • Potential DangersLionfish, boat traffic
  • LifeguardNo
  • Visitor numbersMedium
  • Access costsStay in one of the resorts, or boat tour

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.