While pads are are easy to find in any drugstore or supermarket, some regions of South America are notoriously for being difficult places to locate tampons. Thanks to devastatingly effective marketing in the last century that painted tampons as a product that only promiscuous women would use, some South Americans- and especially many Chileans- tend to associate the usage of sanitary pads with purity, and tampon use with loose sexual ethics.
Younger generations seem to be more empowered in their choices, however, and in areas with younger populations you’ll find tampons for sale in drugstores and supermarkets.
El Calafate, Argentina – El Calafate has one major supermarket and one minor supermarket. Neither market sold tampons on their shelves. Crux Verde, a pharmacy chain, might have sold tampons, but I didn’t check there.
Puerto Natales, Patagonia, Chile, – Near the entrance to Torres del Paine, Puerto Natales has a Unimarc, a major supermarket chain, but did not stock tampons on shelves.
Puerto Montt, Northern Patagonia near Chiloe Island– Santa Isabella (large grocery chain) in Puerto Montt stocked the largest selection of tampons of anywhere in Patagonia.
San Pedro de Atacama – When my period arrived during my week in San Pedro de Atacama, I thought I was doomed (destined to rely on the reusable cotton pads I pack as backup). San Pedro de Atacama is a booming tiny village, but despite its popularity among mostly millennial & Gen-Z travelers, there aren’t really any national chain stores other than Cruz Verde, a pharmacy.
Luckily, with the tourism boom has come the availability of tampons in markets in San Pedro. Crux Verde had several options and later in my stay I noticed a few packages tucked away on a shelf in a tiny street market – so if you find yourself in need of tampons in San Pedro – or omitting them from your packing list because you DON’T expect your period, in this part of South America you can expect to have a few options.
Packing Light and Eco-Friendly
If your plans include long-term travel and more than a few menstrual cycles (and you opt not to skip periods all together via birth control), you may want to look into alternative products for dealing with your period that are more environmentally friendly and take up less space in your luggage.
1. Ditch single-use applicators – Most of us learned to use tampons with applicators because they felt a little easier to manage. But now that we know the harm of single-use plastic, it’s important to try other, less wasteful period products to see if they might work for us. Options for tampons with less waste include:
a. Using reuable applicators with tapons sold without applicators, or
b. Applicator-less tampons. Applicator-less tampons get stigmatized, but I wonder if that stigma is related more to discomfort with our bodies than to the process. Applicator-less tampons take up about 1/3rd as much space in luggage as applicator tampons, so if you’re aspiring to #onebag it, it’s worth attempting the switch for environmental and space saving reasons.
2. Reusable cloth pads
Another low-environmental-impact and ultralight-packing friendly option for handling periods while traveling in South America or any other region is reusable pads. Like Applicator-less tampons, reusable pads also temd to get stigmatized as “gross” or “unhygienic.” Far from the truth, our discomfort with cloth pads is probably more likely due to our tendency, as women, to believe that the products our mothers and/or health classes taught us are “normal” and that other period solutions are “weird.”
Challenge your preconceptions and give cloth pads or alternative tampons a try. Because both pads breathe, flex, and stretch in a way that plastics-based pads can’t, they are far superior in comfort and are easily handwashed in a sink. I always carry two as a backup, and they wash well with the unscented Dr Bronners soap that many travelers carry as a multi-purpose soap and cleanser.
3. Menstrual Cups
Of course, an article on managing periods while traveling would be remiss without mentioning menstrual cups which have surged into popularity in recent years. Although not right for everyone or every travel style, menstrual cups can be a way to manage period flow without the need to locate replenishments when you run low on pads or tampons.
Getting your period unexpectedly while traveling in South America or anywhere else doesn’t have to be a disruptive disaster. By planning ahead for a few period-related contingencies, trying more environmentally friendly and traveler-friendly reusable menstrual products, and knowing where in South America you can find tampons, you can continue to focus on your travel without skipping a beat.
While some regions of South America have been heavily influenced by propagandistic advertising which promoted tampon use as immoral, the increasingly globalized, young, and upwardly mobilized population is re-claiming women’s empowerment, preference, options around menstruation products- and with that reshaping the availability of menstrual products in stores in South America.
Artist, digital nomad, and highly sensitive person, Lynli started traveling full time as a digital nomad in 2018. Writer and Illustrator by day, remote-destination explorer by other-days, Lynli is passionate about pushing the boundaries of her own comfort zone, exploring the world as a female, fat, one-bag traveler, and journalling it all on WanderBig.com