How to Avoid Sand Flea Bites on Your Caribbean Vacation

Sugar Bay Resort on St. Thomas doesn’t want you bugged

biting sand flea
CSIRO / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 3.0

No one wants to be bugged while they’re on vacation, either from beach hawkers or from actual bugs. Among biting pests, mosquitoes get most of the attention in the Caribbean, and rightly so: these flying bloodsuckers can spread some nasty diseases, from Dengue fever to malaria to the zika virus.

Preventing mosquito bites is crucial if you want to have a healthy and happy Caribbean vacation. In terms of sheer irritation, sand flea bites may be even worse than mosquito bites.

Fortunately, the prevention tips for both types of pest attacks are pretty similar.

At the Sugar Bay all-inclusive resort on St. Thomas, they’re pretty proactive in making sure guests stay bug-bite free.

They give you a handout when you check in outlining the issue about sand fleas, known by several names including sand fly, beach flea, hop-a-long, punky, punkie, or the most appropriate "no-see-um," because they’re so small. In fact, there are a number of biting shoreline bugs that get lumped into the category of "sand fleas." Some are biting midges while others are tiny, jumping crustaceans. 

What they are universally know as is annoying. Bites on humans are normally found in clusters around the ankles, arms and back: sitting or laying on a beach makes you a prime target, because these buggers don't ever fly or jump higher than a few feet off the ground.

On my last visit to Sugar Bay, I saw sand fleas on occasion and batted them away before they could nibble.

Bites are most likely to occur at dawn or in the evening, at night on the beach or other sandy areas near water or grassy areas.

Despite its size, the bite from one of these can cause a large welt or rashes that can persist for days. Welts or hives produced from the bites are itchy, and scratching bitten areas should be avoided which will prolong the symptoms.

Much like with other minor bug bites, these bites can be treated with calamine or hydrocortisone cream if necessary, and can also be alleviated with use of ice or aloe vera. Antihistamines can help ease itching, and ibuprofen can alleviate pain. Try to avoid scratching -- it will prevent infections.

Prevention tips include:

  • Wear DEET insect repellent, especially in early morning or at dusk, or when there is cloud cover and the beach is cooler, since that’s when sand fleas tend to come out the most. 
  • Head to the beach later in the morning, when sand fleas are less active.
  • Windy days are better beach days for avoiding sand fleas, which don't fly well in the wind.
  • If you're on the beach at prime sand-flea hours, keep moving: they're not very fast but will swarm you if you linger too long.
  • Avoid laying or sitting directly on the sand: a lounge chair over a blanket is ideal.
  • Cover your feet, ankles and calves whenever possible.
  • Return beach towels before heading to your room; don’t give the little critters a free ride to your room where they’ll bug you anew.
  • Keep your balcony door closed after sundown.

Not bad advice to keep from getting bugged on your vacation.

The Sugar Bay Resort and Spa has 297 rooms on Water Bay in St.

Thomas. Despite their proactive approach to sand fleas, the resort isn't more or less prone to the little buggers than anywhere else: no-see-ums can be found along nearly any warm-weather beach on earth. The resort is all-inclusive and is a popular wedding venue and meeting location -- it has more than 16,000 square feet of meeting and event space.

Sugar Bay Resort and Spa
6500 Estate Smith Bay
St. Thomas
U.S.Virgin Islands
Phone: (888) 582-9104