sandflies the dreaded no see ums. The Backpacking Housewife

Don’t let biting sandflies spoil your tropical holiday!

Right now, it’s hot and humid on the smallest of the Bay Islands in the Caribbean Sea and I’m equipped with an artillery of defences and treatments against the misery and suffering from tropical biting sandflies.

I’ve visited this Caribbean island many times before and so I absolutely know exactly what I’m up against.

I’ve been a victim so many times.

Yes – you might have found your perfect tropical paradise – but can you escape those tiny biting SANDFLIES sometimes called NoSee’Ums?

Or those horrible (sometimes tropical disease carrying) MOSQUITOES?

I’ve suffered so many mosquitoes bites that I’ve worried about getting Dengue Fever or worse.

Then there’s the wickedly stealthy DOCTOR FLIES – a type of horsefly that can cause a welt the size of a golf ball!

Arrrgghh! I’m itching and scratching and anxious just thinking about being attacked by them.

That’s because – like biting sandflies – you seldom see or hear them or feel them until it’s waaay too late.

Then you are left with a swollen foot, leg, arm, hand, or wherever else they’ve inflicted their nasty bite.




The Dreaded No-SEE’UMS

An empty beach but is it? Sand flies - the no see ums. The Backpacking Housewife
An empty beach…. but is it really?

I’ve encountered tiny biting beasties in several places around the world.

In Scotland, during damp summers, we suffered from the pesky Scottish midge making walking or camping a trial.

Sandflies, however, (The NoSee‘Ums) are so tiny that, well um, you can’t see them.

Unless they are swarming and then it’s too late and they’re all over you and you’re breathing them in.

One thing that a NoSee‘Um has in common with a mosquito is that they are often more prevalent just before rainfall and afterwards.

And, in that it’s only the females that bite, because they need blood proteins to produce eggs and more pesky sandflies!

And, not only are they almost impossible to see, they are annoyingly hard to avoid or repel.

Tips to Avoid being attacked by NoSee‘Ums

preventative measures

1) Staying indoors with all doors and windows closed and the air-con on cold. Not fun or practical!

2) Covering up. The second-best way to avoid being bitten by any biting flies but, like staying indoors all summer, who wants to be covered up from head to foot in the heat and sun of the tropics?

3). Wearing a repellent. This works to a degree against mosquitoes but frustratingly, in my experience, doesn’t seem to work too well against the NoSee‘Ums. Maybe they don’t have a sense of smell?

You might have found your perfect tropical paradise - but can you escape those tiny biting SANDFLIES
You might have found your perfect tropical paradise – but can you escape those tiny biting SANDFLIES

Why do some people get bitten and others don’t?


1) TYPE ONE amounts to ninety-nine percent of the tourists I see here who get bitten by sandflies and go around looking like they have the plague with a look of misery about them because most of their body is covered in big round angry itchy welts.

2) TYPE TWO never get bitten so must be practicing voodoo, taste really sour, or have skin like leather.

3) TYPE THREE are the rare lucky ones who do get bitten but don’t react and so are totally immune.

this means there is hope!

It means it is possible for most people – given time – to become a type three because the body will finally start producing a natural antihistamine against the bites.

I’ve been here on this island for almost a month now, but two years ago, I lived on this island for many months – see My Postcard From Utila.

Indeed, after about three months, I started to notice that I was still getting bitten by the sandflies – their bites feel like tiny painful pinpricks – but I was no longer reacting to them.

I was no longer getting the huge swollen red welts and the bites didn’t itch.

And, if the bite didn’t itch and I didn’t scratch them, then it wasn’t an issue anymore.

I had finally joined those immune types and paradise had indeed been found.

But – it has been two years since I was here last – and now I’m apparently back to being type number one again.

And, of course, that’s no help at all to YOU – if you are on a tropical holiday/vacation for just a week or two.

Coral Beach on the Caribbean Island of Utila
Coral Beach on the Caribbean Island of Utila. Photo Janice Horton

Tips to avoid being attacked by NoSee‘Ums

1) SIT IN A BREEZE: It seems that sandflies can’t bite you in a breeze so try to sit next to a fan or any stream of moving air.

2) MARMITE: I’ve heard some people advocate eating marmite. I’ve not tried this. I would try this, but being on an island where a boat brings supplies on a Tuesday and a Friday, no one I know has marmite.

3) COCONUT OIL: I do know that sandflies can’t seem to bite you if you are wearing oil on your skin. Any oil might work but I advocate wearing plenty of coconut oil. The little devils might get stuck on you but aren’t able to get their teeth in so easily.

Coconut oil deterrers biting flies
I advocate wearing plenty of coconut oil to stop the No-See-‘Ums biting you.

Mosquitoes and Bigger Biting Flies

Mosquitoes and Doctor Flies can leave a much bigger welt on your skin and can inflict terrible pain and itchiness and the worst thing you can do is to scratch. As not only can the bite look worse you might then get it infected. So what to do?

At the end of this post I’ve got a video of me demonstrating (affiliate link to Amazon) the Bite Away Pen which I found really worked on mosquito and larger bites. Lots of my friends used it too and then they bought their own as it worked so well.

This year – as I said in my first paragraph – I’m armed with an artillery of defences and treatments with which to tackle the NoSeeUm’ and other biting flies and the products below are my personally tried and tested recommendations to you.




The Bite Away Insect Bite/Sting Healer Pen



Have you ever had your summer spoiled by pesky No-See-‘Ums and other biting flies?

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Heather -

Thanks for your article Janice – I am definitely in group one. Every time I visit a place where those pesky bug are at – I am covered in bites. Most recently another Bay Island – Roatan. My bites last for weeks – turning into blisters – usually twice and then finally subsiding. Thank goodness we were scuba diving everyday – otherwise I don’t think there would be any unbitten skin left on me. There was a group of us and we found that females seemed to be bitten more – only one male in our group of 18 was affected. Next time I will bring coconut oil with me. Any advise on how to treat them – I take a anti-histamine to help with the itching and put cream on the bites but they still last for weeks.


Hi Heather – thanks for getting in touch and telling me about your dilemma with fly bites in Roatan. I’m off there myself in a couple of weeks and I’ll be reporting back on the usefulness of a new bite treatment product supplied to me by a company that assures me it will relieve the bites I’m sure to get there. Please pop back to read the resulting post. I’ll also post a link to it from my social media channels! Janice xx

Stelle Marin -

Try vicks vaporub. They relieve me of the itch. I am type one and I am living a miserable life because of them no-see-ums. I seem to be the only one being bitten though. I will try the coconut oil.

Kay -

Such little buggers aren’t they?! We’ve got ’em by the bucketful in the West African jungle. It’s interesting how people react differently to the bites. For me they burn like crazy for about 20 minutes then go away. As long as there is no scratching they tend to disappear.
Oil is DEFINITELY the greatest thing for it. We’ve got a thicker, dark palm nut oil that helps sooth irritated bites and prevents them from biting more. I love it so much. “Have fun getting that on your wings ya buggers!!”


Hi Kay – thanks for reading and for your reply – I absolutely agree that a natural oil is the best deterrent against the no-see-‘ums!

Astrid -

Hi Janice,
So glad I found this article. I currently live in San Pedro Sula, here from the States for hubby’s work. Went hiking up the Coca-Cola trail, stopped to have a wonderful coconut and got bitten up. Sitting here trying not to scratch as I write this. Absolutely miserable! We’ve been to Roatan (never got bitten btw) and now looking to visit Utila. Would love to hear your thoughts as to where to stay on the island and good eats. Will visit your Instagram.
Great article, thank you.


Hi Astrid – I’m so happy that you found my article on biting flies helpful – I’m also a victim of bites and stings at the moment and so taking my own advice lol! Utila is a wonderful island and would recommend the Utila Guide to you while planning your trip
There are several spots on the island I love – the public beach at Chepes and Bando Beach at the Point and my favourite beach spot is Coral Beach and Neptune’s restaurant and bar there. There are many great places to eat on the island. I love Mango Tango for fine food and cocktails with a sunset view and RJ’s for BBQ (fish meat & veggies) and Mango Inn for pizza oven pizza’s. Will you be diving? I can recommend Tank’d Pro Dive Shop at Odyssey Resort and you can find out more in my post

Nick Bennett -

Hi Janice, know what you mean about noseeums We lived in the Caribbean on various island for about 5 years – the last few up north in the Virgin Islands. While we were there we experimented with all sorts of repellents and then eventually created our own which in turn led to the setting up of our company – The Solid Bar Company – we then moved to Florida and then eventually back to the UK – but we still ship our repellents out to the US and the Caribbean and mote recently set up a distribution point in the USA again – you might want to take a look – good luck and it was great to read about your travels anyway!


Hi Nick. Thanks for the visit and for your comment about those no-see-ums! I love the sound of your solid bar products and I’ll be checking out your website and social media channels.

Samantha Burris -

So much that can be done to stop sandflies from biting you. I’ve heard so many raves about Avon’s Skin So Soft Body Oil but haven’t really tried it myself, but consumers reports actually shows that it’s useful for about 2 hours. You will need to keep applying consistent for a more potent and long-lasting effect.

Repellents are actually good too, especially if you choose to hang out on the beach.

Would I look weird if I actually bought a portable citronella candle and lounge on the sand? Anything to get rid of no see ums, right?

Would love for you to check out a recent post I wrote on the subject about how to prevent no see ums from biting. I really think your readers could benefit from it, too. We have them a lot here in Jamaica.

Source >>


Thanks Samantha – I’ve tried Avon Skin So Soft and it smells nice and feels great but it’s a heavier oil like coconut oil that works best I feel. Thanks for your link – I will take a look. Sending best wishes to you in Jamaica!

Callum -

Firstly ten out of ten for uprooting from your comfort zone and discovering the world outside Scotland . As a fifty six year old Male I started travelling around six years ago. China, Cambodia , Malaysia and Thailand were just some of the countries visited , North Korea remains a definite ‘maybe’. I could probably write a book from my current life as well as my previous when I was an Edinburgh publican for over thirty years !
I look forward to further updates / blogs and wish you both good health and happy travels .


Hi Callum and thanks so much for your message about your travels. I do think more people should get out of their comfort zone to travel and explore the places you have mentioned. We loved travelling in Asia and will certainly go back. Don’t think I want to go to North Korea – in its current state – but South Korea we have been on many occasion as we have family living there. I think you should consider writing that book!


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