In the mid-1980s, Sharm El-Sheikh, at the Sinai's southern tip, had one hotel, two dive centers, and a snack bar. Today this bustling little town has more than 160 hotels, with respective dive centers, malls, casinos, and restaurants. This exponential expansion marks the town as Egypt's key resort in what marketers call the Red Sea Riviera. Indeed, Sharm, as it is fondly called, is known for having some of Egypt's most lavish hotels, world-renowned dive centers, and nightlife galore. It's now a firm favorite for fun-in-the-sun singles, couples, and families, but every so often this small corner of the Sinai takes to the world stage when political leaders gather for summit meetings or peace talks related to Middle East issues.

Get rid of any preconceived notions of visiting a barren wasteland rich in archaeological sites and a simple desert lifestyle. If your aim is to dive, snorkel, enjoy outdoor and water activities, or simply to lounge before you hit the nightlife scene, you're in the right place. Sharm also makes a solid base for nearby desert sites, which can be visited on day trips.

There are four main areas within the vicinity of Sharm El-Sheikh. The most popular is known as Na'ama Bay, the central hub with the majority of the hotels, restaurants of various culinary merit, souvenir-filled shops, key nightspots, and excellent dive centers. North of Na'ama Bay is the new district of Nabq, which has a handful of large resort hotels. South of Na'ama Bay is Hadaba (the name means plateau), where the main highlight is the view of the surrounding area, and the number of hotels has been rising. South of Hadaba, Sharm al-Maya is often called downtown Sharm El-Sheikh. It's set on the more down-to-earth Sharm El-Sheikh harbor, where the dive boats dock at night. Here are more hotels, as well as typically Egyptian ahwas (cafés) where men smoke shisha (water pipes) and play backgammon.