What To Do About the $)%^#$* Sandflies


Sandflies, sandfleas, biting midges, no-see-ums. People have all kinds of names for these little insect jerks, but the common theme is these teeny tiny bugs can be a big pain in the ass on your trip to Roatan if you’re not prepared. These disgusting little bugs are nearly invisible and you don’t feel the bite until it’s too late, so it’s possible to get destroyed by them before you even realize it!

On my first Roatan vacation, I shortly found out that I was highly allergic to the sandflies, which was really fun and looked super cute:

sandfly legs

The itch from these bites is several times that of a mosquito bite. I would wake up in the middle of the night furiously scratching my legs with whatever was close – my phone case, a fork, the anti-itch cream lid. As the bites stem from the sandfly injecting its saliva under your skin (uh, gross) and your body reacting to that, the more you scratch, the more you spread the saliva. It’s a cycle of itchy disgustingness.

When I moved to Roatan, I thought I would get used to them quickly, and be like the islanders who don’t even react to them. I was wrong. Very wrong.

sandfly bites


This ugly picture is me about 4 weeks on the island. I was scratching my bites so much I had huge scabs all over myself. As it turns out, when you’re in the water every day, nothing heals either. I was miserable, and EVERYONE felt the need to comment on my bites and what I ‘should’ be doing for them. (Like I wasn’t already trying everything in the world!)

Everyone kept telling me it would get better as I spent more time here. Nope. Check out my legs 4 months in:

rika bites


It took me an 14 MONTHS on Roatan before I developed immunity to sandfly bites. The islanders ‘lovingly’ nicknamed me “Sore Legs” and I still get called that after nearly 3 years here, even though I am happy to report my legs no longer look like a motorcycle ran them over and the bites don’t bother me anymore.

I’ve learned how to combat these little buggers, and I’m going to share it with you so you don’t become “Sore Legs #2” during your time on Roatan. Everyone reacts differently to sandflies, and some people have zero reaction (lucky!) but it’s better to prevent them either way, just in case you’re someone who reacts highly to them.

Here is your list of must-haves for a sandfly-free vacation:

  • DEET-based bug spray (yeah, I never put chemicals on my skin either before I moved here, but it’s just for a week or two while you’re on vacation)
  • Cactus Juice (can purchase many places on Roatan, just ask around) OR Avon Skin-so-Soft OR coconut oil
  • two anti-histamines: one that makes you drowsy and one non-drowsy
  • anti-itch hydro-cortisone cream
  • rum drinks

And here is what to do with them:

  1. From the moment you get off the plane (seriously), make sure you have the DEET spray and Cactus Juice/oily lotion on your extremities at all times (sandflies looooooove legs, arms and backs but will bite anywhere). I put on Cactus Juice first to make a barrier on my skin so I don’t put DEET straight on my skin (I don’t know if that actually works that way, I’m not a scientist). Bonus: DEET spray will keep away the mosquitoes too, of which there are plenty here. Make sure to wear sunscreen somewhere in there if you use the Skin-so-Soft or coconut oil so you don’t fry. Cactus Juice has SPF in it already, which is what it’s the one I use personally.
  2. Re-apply the above as needed, especially after lots of sweating or swimming. You need it all day and in the evening too. Sandflies don’t only come out during certain times of day, and they’re not only at the beach.
  3. If you go in the ocean, rinse off with fresh water immediately after exiting the water. Sandflies loooooooove salt!
  4. Carry your anti-itch cream with you everywhere and put it on any bites straight away. If you can resist the urge to scratch, the bite will go away within hours with the help of the hydro-cortisone. If you scratch, it will get worse and take longer to go away.
  5. If you get nailed with bites, take your non-drowsy anti-histamine during the day and the drowsy one to help you get to sleep at night (they get super itchy at night, especially when you’re trying to sleep).
  6. If all else fails, drink tons of rum until you forget about your bites. NOTE: islanders swear the rum attracts the sandflies. This may be true, but if you’re full of bites already and miserable, you might as well just get drunk.

Good luck!