In almost every village, town and city in Oman, you’ll find a long deep path of water running through houses, streets and farms. This is known locally as the ‘falaj’ and is the sophisticated main irrigation system in the country. Here are the incredible secrets and technical wonders of this amazing feat.
What is a falaj?
A falaj is a channel that is dug in earth, through which water runs. It is an ancient irrigation system that existed in Al Dakhliya, Al Sharqiyah and Al Batinah regions in Oman since 500 AD. Aflaj is the plural of falaj, and is an Arabic word that means ‘split into parts’. It is so called because the falaj divides water between farms. It is an original Omani irrigation system that deeply connects to the country’s heritage, culture and history.
Destinations Unlocked:Let our travel expert Stefano help you find your perfect Culture trip
Looking for an expert's perspective?Uncover my top 3 recommended places from each continent on the map.
1. GuatemalaAn express adventure for those with limited time off. Prepare yourself incredible experiences. You will hike a volcano, visit mayan temples and witness a ceremony and take in beautiful colonial Antigua.
2. BelizeA quick trip not too far away for those seeking a relaxing mini break. You will have plenty of free time to relax but also some awesome activities to experience the rainforest and the caribbean sea.
3. MexicoAn exciting mini trip exploring the lesser known colonial towns of central Mexico. This is hte perfect trip for someone with limited time off and still wants to turn on explorer mode and do something different.
1. EcuadorA remarkable 8 days adventure through the Andes and the Amazon rainforest. The best choice for adventure seekers wishing to visit the 2 most iconic areas of South America, in only 1 week and no flights.
2. PeruAn alternative itinerary to classic Peru, from Cusco to Arequipa. This itinerary is great combination of highlights Cusco and Machu Picchu with the lesser known Arequipa and Colca Canyon.
1. ItalyThe ultimate Italian experience from the vibrant streets of Naples to the breathtaking sceneries of the Amalfi Coast followed by Matera and down to Puglia with its golden beaches, intense flavours and fascinating destinations.
2. ScotlandEmbark on this great adventure starting from London all the way to Scotland with a true Scottish experience made of breathtaking sceneries, whisky tasting and ..lots of fun! Ideal for train lovers and explorers.
3. PortugalA wonderful train journey around Portugal, from the romantic city of Porto to the Douro Valley, to the beautiful Aveiro all the way to Lisbon and Sintra. The perfect trip to train, culinary and culture lovers.
1. South KoreaDiscover incredible temples, mountains and modern cities on this 10 day adventure. This trip is perfect for those seeking immersion in the cuisine, culture and natural wonders of South Korea.
2. ThailandFrom Bankgok to Angkor Wat to Ho Chi Minh City and everything in between - adventure through the heart of South-East Asia. Taste the delights, see history brought to life and unwind on a Mekong River cruise.
3. Sri LankaA fantastic adventure that showcases Sri Lanka's fantastic landscapes, wildlife and flavours. With 3 epic rail journeys, 3 UNESCO heritage sites and time to relax, this trip has loads to offer at a great price
1. MoroccoAn epic journey across Morocco: from Casablanca to Marrakech, through the blue city of Chefchaouen to the wonders of the desert and deep to the High Atlas Mountains - this trip has it all! Ideal for true explorers!
2. EgyptFrom Cairo to Aswan, this trip brings the land of the pharaohs to life. You'll visit the Pyramids, Valley of the Kings and Luxor Temple and cruise down the Nile in style. This is the perfect way to explore Egypt.
How does a falaj work?
A falaj gets its water from underground sources like wells or wadis (valleys). It doesn’t use machines to extract water, but depends on gravity to force water to flow through its channels. This also controls how water is divided fairly and equally among different farms and surrounding areas. Water is constantly streaming in the aflaj all year long, but the fullness of the falaj depends on the rainy seasons in Oman, which determines the fullness of the water sources.
A falaj consists of three main parts; umm al falaj, the access shafts and the tunnel. Umm al falaj, which means ‘the mother well’, is where the main source of water is located. The water at this point has the highest quality. Then comes the tunnel, which carries the water from the mother well to its destination. The length of the tunnel depends on the type of terrain where the falaj runs, the amount of water in the mother well, and how far is the final water destination.
The access shafts are built every 20 meters (66 feet) along the tunnel to facilitate ventilation and to help in the removal of debris. There is a ring of burnt clay at the shaft mouth, which has two main functions; to prevent the destruction of the falaj if the tunnel collapses, and to prevent flooding water from entering the falaj. These covered rings also protect water from pollutants, and prevent people and animals from falling in the falaj.
Types of aflaj
There are three main types of aflaj in Oman depending on the type of groundwater they provide. The first type is the dawoodi falaj, which is a long underground channel that can be tens of meters deep, and can run for several kilometers, which keeps the water constant around the year. The ghaili falaj is another type which is usually from 3-4 meters (10-13 feet) deep and gets its water from ponds and running water. It floods when it rains heavily and dries when it doesn’t rain for a long time.
The third type is the ainy falaj that extracts water from springs – hence its name ‘ainy‘, which comes from the Arabic word ‘ain‘, meaning ‘well’. The importance of the ainy falaj depends on the type of water it has. It can carry hot or cold water, fresh drinking water or saline water, or alkaline water mixed with valley water.
The most famous aflaj in Oman
Oman has more than 11,000 falaj, some of which are considered mind-blowing natural attractions. Falaj Al Khatmayn and Falaj Daris are the most famous Dawoodi aflaj in Al Dakhliya Governorate. Falaj Al Jaylah in Al Sharqiyah Governorate, and Falaj Ayn Al Kasfah in Al Rustaq are two of the most well-known ainy aflaj in Oman. In 2006, five Omani aflaj were added to the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites: Falaj Al-Mayassar, Falaj Al-Jeela, Falaj Al-Malki, Falaj Daris and Falaj Al-Khatmeen (Al Khatmayn).
Volcanic Iceland Epic Trip
meet our Local Insider
HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN A GUIDE?
WHAT DO YOU LOVE ABOUT YOUR JOB?
It's the personal contact, the personal experiences. I love meeting people from all over the world... I really like getting to know everyone and feeling like I'm traveling with a group of friends.
WHAT DESTINATION IS ON YOUR TRAVEL BUCKET-LIST?
I have so many places on my list, but I would really lobe to go to Africa. I consider myself an “adventure girl” and Africa feels like the ULTIMATE adventure!
Every CULTURE TRIP Small-group adventure is led by a Local Insider just like Hanna.
KEEN TO EXPLORE THE WORLD?
Connect with like-minded people on our premium trips curated by local insiders and with care for the world
Since you are here, we would like to share our vision for the future of travel - and the direction Culture Trip is moving in.
Culture Trip launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful — and this is still in our DNA today. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes certain places and communities so special.
Increasingly we believe the world needs more meaningful, real-life connections between curious travellers keen to explore the world in a more responsible way. That is why we have intensively curated a collection of premium small-group trips as an invitation to meet and connect with new, like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in three categories: Culture Trips, Rail Trips and Private Trips. Our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.
Culture Trips are deeply immersive 5 to 16 days itineraries, that combine authentic local experiences, exciting activities and 4-5* accommodation to look forward to at the end of each day. Our Rail Trips are our most planet-friendly itineraries that invite you to take the scenic route, relax whilst getting under the skin of a destination. Our Private Trips are fully tailored itineraries, curated by our Travel Experts specifically for you, your friends or your family.
We know that many of you worry about the environmental impact of travel and are looking for ways of expanding horizons in ways that do minimal harm - and may even bring benefits. We are committed to go as far as possible in curating our trips with care for the planet. That is why all of our trips are flightless in destination, fully carbon offset - and we have ambitious plans to be net zero in the very near future.