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5 Colombo Swimming Pools

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Colombo is a hot, hot, hot city. That’s not a comment on the talent you see out in the clubs on a Friday night but rather a statement on the sun-blasted sweat stained nature of life on this very tropical island. Still as much as the heat is an ancient and immutable fact of Lankan life, its antidotes are also well established. There are cold showers, formerly the well-bath; the pankawa-now reincarnated as the fan and AC; the parasol today more an umbrella and thambili and juices nowadays more likely a diabetes inducing soft drink. But when all else fails, the final and best solution to the heat is a dip in the Indian Ocean.

Still in these days of pollution and treacherous tides the sea isn’t always an option, which means that Colombars often have to resort to the next best thing – the swimming pool. Fundamentally little more than the modern descendents of Anuradhapura’s royal baths, swimming pools have clearly been an integral part of Lankan society since the time of the ancient kings.

So to properly assess the state of contemporary Lankan civilization the YAMU crew set off on a review of the 14th capital’s (starting with Vijithapura) swimming holes.

We rated pools on their design, crowding, shade of blue, value for money and also the quality and cost of those age old Sri Lankan pool-side staples - a beer, club sandwich and lime soda.

Here’s our rundown of five choice Colombo pools:

Mount Lavinia Hotel

The key to the appeal of the Mount Lavinia pool is that the lovely poolside terrace is surrounded, on three sides, by the Indian Ocean. So you have one of the best views of the capital – sitting on the terrace sipping a beer and munching a club sandwich while staring as the city’s rising skyline is one the defining Colombo experiences. Read more here.

Galle Face Hotel

NOTE: The Galle Face Pool is not closed to non-hotel guests. Sadness.

Well you really can’t do one without the other – the Mount Lavinia Hotel and the Galle Face Hotel are Colombo’s colonial duo. So we headed to the GFH’s famed salt water pool. That’s right, no chlorine here, but salt so you get a bit of added buoyancy and less of that horrid chorine smell. Design wise its nothing special, just a rectangular pool, but its classic look suits the hotel and perched on a ledge above the sea it manages to be pretty photogenic. Read more here.

Casa Colombo

The pink pool at Casa Colombo is less of a pool and more an indulgent pink wallowing hole, though you can manage a few ‘lengths’ at the far end. It works, though, as Casa is more of a fantasy than a real hotel. With its pink lava lighting, impossibly fecund mango tree centrepiece and floating silver orbs the pool, like everything else at Casa, the pool appears to have fallen out of a bond movie. Read more here.

Cinnamon Lakeside

Of Colombo’s 5 star hotel pools we are partial to the one at Cinnamon Lakeside. It’s probably the most recently refurbished of the big hotel pools and with its Beira-side views, deep blue tinge, and innovative U-shape it makes for better swimming than your average hotel pool. This is really a good place for a swim. It’s probably the largest of the hotel pools so there’s plenty of space to manoeuvre around and get some exercise and on weekday afternoons and evenings it can actually be quite empty.

It also comes the closest to being an infinity pool with a sheer ledge that can trick your eyes into thinking you’re swimming into the Beira (its cleaner now, but that’s still a frightening thought). The pool also benefits from the relatively high standard of food at the Cinnamon Hotels. The excellent Royal Thai, for example, is just feet away. Read more here.

The Colombo Swimming Club

It’s called the swimming club, so this ought to be a good place for a swim - and it is. The pool isn’t going to win any awards for design, but its large, and just feet from sea. Once again though the pool might be the only place on the club’s terrace from where you don’t get a sea view, but you do get an eyeful of the old club house and the Colpetty’s skyline while you’re splashing about.

More than just splashing, however, as it’s 30 meters long and rectangular so you can get some proper swimming done here and even work on entering the pool with a nice smooth dive in the adequately deep, deep end. Read more here.

Whither the hydraulic civilization?

While we only skimmed the surface of Colombo’s watery offerings in this round up we have to report that we were generally underwhelmed. The pools at Galle Face and Lakeside are nice, but the land of the Kuttam Pokuna and the Parakrama Samudraya seems to be falling behind when it comes to pools.

While Colombo offers some beautiful views and natural settings, few if any of the city’s existing pools take advantage of the cityscape. It’s true that many of these pools date from the 70s and 80s - when it was enough to have a blue cement pond with some water in it - but the time has come for some serious refurbishment. There’s a real lack of infinity edges (faddish but cool) or rooftop swimming pools in the city, and that’s unfortunate because again Colombo has the requisite scenery. Aesthetic defects aside there also just aren’t enough pools - particularly public pools in the city. Rs. 1000 for a swim is fine for some but for many, even white collar workers, that’s a days wage. Extraordinarily though hotel pools are the closest things to public pools in the city. The remainder are club pools – which require membership, joining fees and annual subs, or school pools at select schools which generally aren’t open to the public. Some proper thought need’s to be give to public pools in the city – our ancient kings seemed to understand the importance of water but latterly our rulers seem to have forgotten that a dip in a pool on a hot day shouldn’t be reserved for a small elite.

This content is also featured in the current issue of Echelon magazine. Check it out at newsstands around Colombo.
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