Why I May Never Really Love the Caribbean

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I’m formulating a larger post on some pluses and minuses of Hawaii vs. the Caribbean because lots of folks struggle with whether it is worth the additional travel time, miles, and dollars to head to Hawaii over going somewhere closer to home (and potentially cheaper) in the Caribbean, Mexico, etc.  Obviously the distance issue changes based on whether you are located on the east coast, west coast, gulf coast, or somewhere in between.  However, the reality is that Hawaii and the Caribbean are two entirely different destinations that both have beaches, but otherwise are pretty different.  I almost consider it an apple to oranges comparison.  Ultimately some will like apples better and some will like oranges better, but that isn’t the specific focus of this post.

Beach on Kauai

Beach on Kauai

This year alone I have had the opportunity to visit Oahu, Maui and Kauai in Hawaii, as well as Cancun, Puerto Rico, and St John outside of Hawaii.  Along with some beautiful beaches, there is one constant with all of my beach trips listed outside of Hawaii.

Playa del Carmen beach

Playa del Carmen beach

Beach on St. John

Beach on St. John

Bug bites.  Lots of bug bites.

A few of many bug bites courtesy of St. John

A few of many bug bites courtesy of St. John

I use bug spray, I don’t use scented lotions, I try to stay inside during sunrise and sunset (other than to take a few quick pictures – which did result in tons of bug bites), I wear long pants, etc, but it doesn’t ultimately matter all that much.  I get nailed by bugs almost as soon as I step outside with intense regularity.  This may have to do with skin type, blood type, bad luck, who knows, but this alone will prevent me from ever really loving some destinations, no matter how pretty the beaches may be.  Bug issues can happen in tropical locations around the world, but I have personally had dramatically fewer bug problems in Hawaii than other beach locations.


Sunset photo on St. John = massive bug attacks!

It could be worse (and has been before during a massive sand flea attack I had in Puerto Rico a few years ago), but bug bites are not the type of souvenir I like to bring home!  This time I think I had a larger issue with sand flys than sand fleas, but both aren’t very much fun.

Anyone else have issues with bugs in certain destinations?  Does it prevent you from going back or just put a little bit of a a cloud over the trip?  It clearly hasn’t stopped me from visiting some destinations, but it does make them much more unpleasant.  It is also why I may enjoy some of my visits, but I don’t think I will ever truly love the Caribbean the way that some people do.

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  1. thanks for this. We LOVE Hawaii, and have been told by so many that we are nuts, we could go “enter other beach location here” for so much less and enjoy it the same. While I have not put that to an extensive test, we did visit cabo san lucas this year instead of hawaii, and while I did like cabo, and it was pretty, I won’t go back and it was no way, no how, no comparison to maui. I have heard that if I ever go to cabo I will not go back to hawaii…not true. I am planning for hawaii now. I have heard those same things about the carribean, and sunset and sunrise are some of the best times at the beach, a rash of bug attacks is not how I want to spend it.

  2. I also am a bug magnet, and have experienced bites while in Hawaii, Fiji, Mexico, and the Caribbean. Although the worst attack was in Hana on Maui, but that was my own fault for not putting on bug repellent (long story)! I probably would never avoid a place simply because of the bugs — I guess I’ve lived with them for so long, I just accept them as a part of traveling life and do my best to repel and soothe as much as I can! One of the best remedies is sea water, so at least while you’re at those locales, there’s plenty of it!

  3. Tonya, I so agree that Hawaii is just different and if you love it, it can’t be replicated by going to Mexico. Of course, some love Mexico and can’t replicate that in Hawaii.
    Catherine, eek worse attack on Maui – yikes! The bites I typically get don’t get terrible until a few days later, at which point I am usually away from the sea water back at home. Bug spray should come standard in these hotels (but of course it comes standard for a $10 fee in the gift shop).

  4. I have been to several Caribbean islands along with Maui, Oahu, Kauai and the Big Island. To me there is no comparison. There is just something special about Hawaii but it has nothing to do with bug bites!!

    • Josh, ha ha. I agree that Hawaii has something magical beyond fewer bugs, but if I left Hawaii covered in bug bites it would put a damper on the Aloha magic some for sure.

  5. Wow I will now think twice about going to carribean! If the long flight from west coast doesn’t dissuade me, then your bug bite pictures did! We had an issue with bug bites in Kauai for the first time this past summer. My 8yr old was covered in bug bites, used bandage to protect her from scratching but turns out she was allergic to the adhesive! Ended up going to the doctors for antibiotics when we got home! We never had any problem in other islands of Hawaii, Cabo or Puerto Vallarta. I heard bugs are particularly bad in cabo and PVR in the summer due to rain, thankfully we never go there in the summer as it is way too hot and we prefer the hawaiian breeze!

    • Sharon, I have had no bug issues in Hawaii, but obviously some do have issues even there, so I wouldn’t let this totally dissuade you from going to the Caribbean. However, be very very careful if someone in in your family is particularly sensitive to bugs. I know for sure me and the Caribbean bugs have a crummy relationship, but even I go back to the area sometimes…but I know full well what I am getting into!

  6. I have been to Cancun, Cozumel, St. Maarten, St. Lucia and I could go on and on with other islands and not once did I have a bug bite. I have been in November, January, February and March. In fact, 16 of us from age 1 – 70 went to Cancun last year for my birthday and not one of us had a bug bite.

  7. Jonathan, awesome!
    Jane, yeah bugs seem to really prefer some over others. My husband and I can be right next to each other all day having showered with the same stuff and be wearing the same bug spray and I will be covered and he may have none or one or two. You are very lucky to have been that many places, especially with a big group, and never had any bug bites! Trade ya. 😉

  8. I love the Caribbean! Bugs are very much specific to certain islands and environments and I think it’s a bit of a generalization to consider it a factor of “the Caribbean”. Those islands with more vegetation like St. John and St. Lucia will have more bugs and humidity. The drier islands, like Aruba and Grand Cayman, you will struggle to find a single bug. If bugs are a downside, I’d suggest checking out Seven Mile Beach in Grand Cayman… white sand for miles and not a single mosquito 🙂

    • The Miles Professor, I’m sure it is a generalization, but so is lumping Hawaii I suppose, so I’m an equal “generalizer”. Outside of Hawaii I have just had crummy bug luck. I hope to check out Grand Cayman eventually and put the bug theory to the test!

  9. My bedbug experience was coming home from Daytona. Had to spend 2 days de-bugging my bedroom.

    I’ve never liked the Carribean spots because of the bad attitude of ripping off American tourists. Now that fares to Hawaii are so cheap I’d go there instead from DC. And the South Orange County/ North San Diego County beaches have it all over Florida. I go to CA from DC because it’s so much nicer and at least as cheap.

  10. That’s funny because I have a love for Tahiti over Hawaii. Much more exotic feeling. I can’t get over that in Hawaii I’m driving on US Hwy 1. I’m not saying it’s not tropical and fabulous, but when you live in the middle of the country and Hawaii is a long way anyway, my money is on Tahiti every time. No bug problems for me at either place. You must be too sweet and made of sugar. I must be made of salt:(

  11. We live in Hawaii, so pretty much dont get the Caribbean, i think one needs to be selective. But for a long weekend,understand the close proximity. Having grown up in Texas, i actually think South Padre is a good value on the Gulf coast.

  12. OK, take out your notepads, because I’m about to solve your problems! 😉

    I’m EXTREMELY allergic and sensitive to bug bits — so much so that in college I carried an Epi-pen around all the time. After years of studying the issue I found the solution: B12 vitamin.

    About 10 days before your trip, start taking B12 vitamins (about 1g a day should do it, probably less). It’s just vitamins, so there are no side-effects or dangers and your body will expel all the excess in your urine anyway. However, it emits a certain smell through your pores (indiscernible to humans) that keeps bugs away. Keep taking it until you get back. 🙂

    Seriously, try it and let me know.

    PS: Don’t confuse B12 with B Complex — you want the B12 and you can find it anywhere (CVS, etc.).

  13. I have spent over 30 weeks vacationing all over the Caribbean, and have never had any bites that look like your arm. However, your posting may help send more people to Hawaii and open up more award space for the islands.Thanks

  14. Love the discussion! I have heard about B12, but never tried that, though I sure might before our next beach trip in January. It is sand flies and sand fleas that I particularly don’t get along with very well. I think it is great that everyone has their favorite spots and that they are all different!

  15. I have been all over the Caribbean: Puerto Rico, St Marteen, Trinidad and Tobago, Margarita Island, Aruba , Curaçao, etc, etc…..and have never got bug bites…..! By the way, those marks on your arms look pretty bad…..I can see why you might want to think twice next time about going back to the beautiful Caribbean!

  16. Hugo, they look worse in focus and I’ve got a couple dozen more to go with it. On the bright side, they are nothing compared the the 100 sand flea bites I had on my legs a few years ago. That was truly horrific.

  17. St John is famous, well infamous then, for bug bites. We spent a week in the British Virgins and saw no one with bug bites, nor did we even use bug spray. Since we were warned about St John, we did use the spray there, and still got some bites. Worse, we saw people on St John with literally multiple hundreds of bites that looked even worse than the ones in your photos.
    St John is pretty, but if you are unusually susceptible to bites, don’t even think of going there.

  18. I love Hawaii, but don’t be fooled about the bugs. Most tourist areas are sprayed to death so the bug bites (and cockroaches) are minimal. If you go inland (example hiking) or are in residential areas without insect repellent, you’ll get bitten. Just take sensible precautions.

  19. Now that you mention it, I didn’t get any bites in Hawaii. I was also very surprised that I didn’t get any bite in Thailand, when most tourist were eaten alive. Unfortunately, I just need to go to my backyard to get bitten.

  20. I, too, prefer Hawaii to MX (haven’t tried the Caribbean yet). I have never been ‘bugged’ by bugs in Hawaii. The occasional cockroach can easily be disposed of-unless they’re flying around your room. 🙂 Then you have to grab a slippah or hunk of newspaper. Long live ALOHA.

  21. Both are incredible destinations and quite different. And all the islands you name are in the tropics, including Hawaii, thus it is a tropical destination. ( with tropical forests just like the one shown in the movie Jurassic park)

    Where I live ( South Florida), we have our mosquito season too due to the Everglades which are very close to the cities. Rule of thumb, November till MId-May is the best time to visit. And I think this applies to most of the islands and beaches you mention.

  22. I’m right there with you Mommy Points! Never bitten in Oahu, Kauai, or Maui. But Mazatlan in December at sunset, watch out. Tons of bites. Ambergris Caye in Belize in February, oh my. I never felt any bites both times I was there, but I was covered with them and the itching is intense and lasts two weeks. I swear never to go back, but look at my photos….. I wear bug shirts and pants, but ankles are fair game. Besides who wants to be at the beach in long sleeves and pants?

  23. My family went to St John over spring break and my wife had a fit with the bugs, sand fleas and their bites. She will never go back.

  24. I hate them, but they come with the sand and beach. I carry Domeboro an astringent solution it make the experience much more pleasent. You can buy the package of 12 powder packets, about $14.00, at CVS. Just mix up one packet in about a half bottle of water and apply to bites. It usually lasts at least 12 hours. I wouldn’t leave home without it.

  25. My name is Dan and I have a problem with bugs. They like me very much. Way more than anyone else that travels with me.

    I’ve never had problems in the Caribbean with bugs but I usually spend most of my time in the bar, on the cruise ship or in the water so maybe that’s why.
    I haven’t been to Hawaii but regardless of bugs you’ve sold me on the idea anyway 🙂

  26. My husband and I absolutely love Aruba and have never gotten bit by bugs at all! It’s a pretty windy location so maybe that’s the reason, although I might think it would be the opposite. We’ve been to Hawaii and it’s wonderful and definitely different, but living on the east coast definitely makes the Caribbean much more doable.

  27. I totally agree with Nikki O., no bugs in Aruba. We totally avoid anything in Mexico what with all the personal safety issues there. Hawaii is great but quite the trek from the Northeast. Mahalo!

  28. I’m so sorry this happened, Summer. My girls suffer horribly from bites — they swell up, itch, last for days and often cause scarring. Sometimes a mosquito or two will sneak into our house and that is what happens. As soon as we see one, we apply one of these B1 patches, Don’t Bite Me!, and they work SO WELL. dontbitemepatch.com Safe for Little C also, I first found out about them when my DDs were in preschool. When we travel, Hawaii, Florida and Cape Cod, we have them wear them with success. I recommended them to a friend who goes camping and their family wore them with success also, they normally experience many bites. I’m so glad you mentioned the bug problem in St. John. My BFF is going there in Jan for her 25th anniversary trip — I will be sure to warn her to potential bug issues.

  29. in Kauai right now. No bugs here. 🙂
    I’ve been all over the Caribbean (including island hopping in the Bahamas).
    I’ve never had a problem with the bugs.
    The only issue i had with bugs was on a family vacation with my parents – rented a house in St. George’s Island (FL panhandle). That was brutal. Got mosquito bites through two t-shirts. The county sprayed mass pesticide while we were there – then the mosquito problem went away.

    After this trip (since I live on the East Coast), I’ll probably stick with the Caribbean for future vacations.

  30. So I just checked in at the grand Hyatt kauai and the bellman went out of his way o say to stay indoors around 4pm because the bugs were really bad right now.

  31. I have been to Maui twice and the Big Island once (got scuba certified in Kona). I’ve also been to Cancun, Cozumel, Virgin Islands, Cayman, Aruba. I think Hawaii is a lot of hype and overrated. Sure there is a lot of money there and it’s nice, but the beaches and water don’t even come close in comparison to Caribbean beaches. I live in LA and would travel twice as long no problem to get to Caribbean over Hawaii. It’s not to say I don’t like Hawaii, but Caribbean beats Hawaii hands down for me. I do a lot of outdoors activities. I’d prefer to scuba in 80-86 degree bath water, than 73-77 degree water in Hawaii. The sand on Caribbean beaches is not sand, it’s white powdery crushed coral. Caribbean beach & water 10 out of 10. Hawaii = 5. I went to what was supposed to be the best beach in Kona in Fodors and all these other guide books and compared to the Caribbean beaches, i’d give it a 5 out of 10. Still gonna go to Kuaui and Oahu in the near future, but Caribbean places are next on my list…

  32. We live in fort lauderdale but make our yearly trip to KOA every july… the caribbean would be a much shorter flight, but Hawaii just feels like home for us. especially the big island.

  33. Fun discussion. Living in Asia, Thailand is my preferred tropical destination. Every time I plan a trip to Hawaii (weddings to attend), I have huge sticker shock although at the end of the day, we do always have a good time in Hawaii.

  34. I had 2 kids in Sunnyvale — one (the older, boy) seemed to attract the fleas from a cat we had – I’ve always wondered if it is some slightly higher body temp, blood type – very curious. Cant be coincidence; bugs don’t think that way.

    Lived on Maui for years – never a prob with bugs.

  35. We went to the St. Maarten for the first time and we did EVERYTHING outside, all the restaurants are fully open to the outside and we never used bug spray but we didn’t need to! I was in Heaven because I always attract bugs and get bites. We never saw any nats or mosquitoes. I absolutely loved being able to spend so much time outside and not have to worry about it. We had a wonderful time

  36. Love Hawaii!
    Do not recall problems with bugs bites there. Returned from Puerto Rico last Thursday. Have bug bites all over my legs, few on my shoulder. Itch like crazy!!!
    No clue there were problems with sand fleas. Never laying on the beach again, lesson learned!

  37. You’ve been everywhere that I haven’t! However, that said, I’m no stranger to beautiful beaches. My favorite destination is good ole Florida! Most noteworthy beach destinations: 30A “beaches of South Walton”; Grayton, Seaside, Rosemary, a few others. They are in between Destin and Panama City Beach. Clean White sand and emerald waters, but Shhh, because they are a secret paradise! Also Love Sanibel Island. St. Augustine is my favorite on the Atlantic side with its history infusion. Then in South Florida you’ve got Cuban food at the ready in Miami. Currently, I’m in love with the Keys. Key Largo’s John Pennekamp for snorkelling, Islamorada for tarpon feeding at Robbie’s. Beaching at one of the very few in the keys; Bahia Honda . Very fun to snorkel on the beach and see lobster, sea urchin, and tiny reef fish. We didn’t have time for the dolphin sanctuary but its there too. I might be missing something in Hawaii or the Caribbean islands but I’m totally happy in Florida. My points and miles go further there too it seems.

  38. Hi ..
    Ive spent a few holidays in Puerto Rico and the hotels always warn about sandfly/no see um bites especially at dawn and dusk. Im usually pretty careful to spray myself if i go anywhere near the beach mornings and evening and then you are ok. However… last night I was unexpectedly delayed at the beach area around 6.30- 7pm and forgot to apply .. 6 bites on each ankle and lower legs ..aaaarghhh they itch like crazy .. could hardly get to sleep and now big ugly white/pink raised lumps on my legs. Being in water ..sea water or the pool helps.. but last time i got bitten like this it took about a week for the itching to wear off. If you are like me and attractive to bugs ( Im also a mosquito magnet) dont chance even 30 mins without bug spray at dawn or dusk. On the plus side, i can be on the beach all day without bug spray from about 10.30 am to 4pm ..they dont seem to bite during the heat of the day ? So maybe the people who say they dont get biiten are not out there early mornings or evenings ? Hope this helps..

  39. I am a horrible bug magnet. You name it, it bites me. And I have bad reactions, big red swollen bite areas and itching beyond belief. When I was in Belize/Guatemala in Nov-Dec I had no idea how bad the bugs would be. We spent time in the jungle then out on the caye’s. The biting flies in the jungle and the no-see-ums/sand fleas were constant, not just early and late. Several of us in the group were ravaged. We took pictures of our legs and there were no flat places! The itching lasted for nearly two weeks and I thought I might lose my mind! I lived in St. Thomas as a kid and the mosquitoes there were bad, too. As much as I adore the Caribbean, I would have to seriously prepare for battle if I go back. Appreciate the B12 and patches tips. I don’t think I had as much difficulty in Hawaii but it simply doesn’t come close to the Caribbean, even with the bugs!

  40. The last 3 or 4 times I went to Hawaii, I came home with both legs covered with bites. It’s only my lower legs so it’s something that’s crawling or jumping. A local told me maybe it was jumping spiders. I’ve never had a problem with mosquitos. A few years ago I went to Alaska in the summer. And you’ve never seen so many mosquitoes. I’m talking thousands of mosquitoes on our hikes. I can home with two bites, and mind you I was wearing short sleeeves and no repellent. But Hawaii and whatever was biting my legs was horrible. Much worse that fleas. But I still love Hawaii.

  41. My husband and I have traveled the Caribbean, including Harbour Island in the Bahamas, Punta Cana in DR, Aruba, Anguilla, Grand Cayman, Turks and Caicos, Playa Del Carmen, Tulum, Fiji and Bermuda. I am a bug magnet, unlike my husband, and I got covered (legs and ankles) in sand flea bites in Turks and Caicos a couple of years ago in January. It was after a stormy couple of days. It was the worst experience I’ve ever had, hands down!! Even worse than breaking my arm or having an appendectomy. As beautiful as Grace Bay in T&C is, I will never go back. We are going to Cabo in November and hope I don’t have any issues there. We are also planning to go to Maui next Spring (April or May). Can’t wait to experience Cabo and Hawaii!

  42. Just got back from 10 days in Aruba during July and August (first time) and I find the comments here very interesting. Our whole time there I found myself wondering, why are there no bugs? We rented a large 4BR/3bath house that had huge windows without screens which we left open all day and night. A bird flew into the kitchen one morning while I was making breakfast, but I never saw even one mosquito, gnat, etc. for our entire stay. We’d sit around with the family playing cards and board games well into the night with those same windows wide open and I was astonished that no moths flew in attracted by the lights! I initially thought that perhaps the homeowner sprays some chemical to keep them away, but sometimes we’d go for a walk after dark and look up at the streetlights…. amazingly, there were no bugs hovering around them! All day at the beach… no bugs or sand fleas. I never once put any bug lotion on, nor did anyone else in our group. We traveled to different parts of the island over the course of our vacation and never saw any bugs anywhere. We’d often eat breakfast and dinner out on the open deck at dawn and dusk… no bugs! Every meal we had at a restaurant, we ate outside… no bugs. I can only guess that is Aruba different from other islands in the Caribbean because of its “desert climate”, although it didn’t feel very desert-ish with the constant high humidity level. Also, the trade winds blow almost continuously, but again, that doesn’t explain why we didn’t see any flying insects day or night in areas where the wind was blocked, like on the leeward side of a large hotel.

  43. I’m a mosquito magnet and visited Hawaii many times over the years with just a few bites here and there. We visited St Thomas in April this year, I used bug spray everyday and was literally covered with a least a hundred small bites on my legs from sitting on beach (on blanket of course)… I never saw one bug at actually jump on me. These sand fleas/mites were awful. I was miserable on the way home and for almost 2 weeks after our trip.

  44. I was in Puerto Rico on November 15th and sat at the beach near my condo. The next morning
    I left to come back to the States and had several bites that woke me up during the night itching
    to high heaven. I have been to 4 doctors and they all say the bites are sand fleas. It is December
    28th and they are not going away. They calm down and then all of a sudden they are back at the
    same spots itching. I have used 3 different kinds of topical creams from the doctors.
    Any advise Help please they are making me irritable.

    • Sand fleas are rough and can last a long time. I’d keep hanging in there with the doctors and they will probably heal, but obviously not as quickly as you want. Maybe ask if there is an oral med you can take? So sorry you are dealing with that!

  45. Just sitting in my hotel room scratching all my red welts reading about bug bites. Stayed on the beach (Seven Mile Beach, Grand Cayman) a little bit too late two days ago and I am paying the price now.

    • Ugh. What a bummer. We head to Grand Cayman in a couple months so glad to know that they are there. Beach bugs are the worst!

  46. I too despise mosquitos or any kind of bugs. Ive been bitten too, but not as bad as some of the experiences shared. I read this article early today on mosquitos. Hopefully it will help. I will trying the B12 vitamin, the patch, and the article suggestions. Taking all precautions..LOL.

    I’m going on my honeymoon next year, and was trying to see where had the least mosquitos. However, I know that can’t be determined. But hopefully some of the advice will help me .. and others.


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