In the U.S., bigger is always better. You can always upgrade to a larger television, and families grow out of two-door sedans if they have children. Sports stadiums hold a hundred thousand spectators and millions more watch at home. Even fashion trends like parachute pants and the big hair and oversized suits of the 80s and 90s point to the fact that when it comes to size, it’s never a bad option to go up to the next one.
But there’s one category where the U.S. is beaten in terms of size. Pools are a fixture of residential neighborhoods and city centers across the country, but not one of them even begins to approach the bewildering size of the facility at San Alfonso del Mar, a Chilean resort hotel complex located an hour’s drive west of the country’s capital. Recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records as the largest swimming pool in the world in terms of area, the facility is a modern marvel of pool construction ingenuity.
A Chile reception
Chile might seem like an odd place to find the world’s largest swimming pool. Its location on the western coast of South America opens it up to just under 4,000 miles of ocean. World-renowned beaches dot Chile from it’s Bolivian border to the north far past the Falkland Islands in the southern Atlantic Ocean, but if you find yourself in Santiago suddenly wanting to go for a swim, skip the ocean and head for the pool at San Alfonso del Mar.
First opened in December 2006, the resort’s pool is a sprawling, 3,000-foot long tub that abuts the Pacific Ocean. The pool floor varies in depth from knee-high water to a 115-foot deep “lagoon” area where swimmers can rent SCUBA gear. In total, the facility uses more than 66 million gallons of water, making the next largest pool – Morocco’s Orthlieb pool at 9.5 million gallons – seem like literal drop in the bucket, Popular Mechanics explained.
San Alfonso del Mar partnered with Fernando Fischmann, a Chilean biochemist and owner pool construction company Crystal Lagoons, to design a pool the world had never seen before. If the building and maintenance costs are any indication, though, the facility may be the only one of its kind.
Travel site Explorra noted that the initial construction costs for the pool were estimated at around $3.5 million. However, that number quickly ballooned to nearly $2 billion by the time the project was completed. OddityCentral.com explained that the sheer size and volume of water in the pool forces annual maintenance expenses up into the $4 million range.
However, Fischmann took a nonstandard approach to the pool’s design to try and cut costs as much as possible. Instead of a traditional filtration system that would likely cost as much to run as the whole facility was the build, Fischmann installed a series of computer-controlled pumps and flanges that allow fresh sea water from the Pacific into one end of the 3,000-foot pool. Half a mile away at the other end, water is pumped back out to create a continuous circulation that decreases pool management’s need for harmful chemicals or an industrial-sized arsenal of filtration equipment.
Explorra explained that Crystal Lagoons’ technology uses 100 times less chemicals and 2 percent of the energy of traditional filtration systems – a critical advantage for a pool of this size.
“As long as we have access to unlimited seawater, we can make it work, and it causes no damage to the ocean,” Fischmann told The Telegraph in a 2010 interview. “Everyone told me it was impossible to have what I dreamed about, this crystal clear water. So as a scientist I developed the technology myself.”
Rather than keeping the secret to large amounts of crystal-clear water to himself, Fischmann has licensed the technology out to developers and pool construction services in dozens of countries around the world. Other South American countries like Peru have added similar facilities, and the technology has proven immensely popular in desert countries where fresh, clean water is as precious a resource as anything else.
Since opening in 2006, the novelty of San Alfonso del Mar’s pool has drawn visitors even in the winter months, possible proving once and for all that – if you have the technology to make it affordable – bigger really is better.