Egypt is a big, diverse country that encompasses some of the most verdant and fertile farmland in the world, stretching across thousands of miles of the most forbidding and remote desert on Earth and bordering on two seas. As culturally diverse and exciting as it is topographically varied, Egypt offers visitors a chance to explore 6,000 years of history, while a burgeoning outdoor-adventure industry gives you a chance to explore the empty expanse of the desert on camels, sandboard down mountainous dunes, sailboard, or just lie on the beach and enjoy the pristine azure of the Red Sea.
Egypt sits on the northeast corner of Africa, and though it is generally lumped in with the Middle East, it remains, technically at least, an African country. To the west, it shares a long desert border with Libya, and to the south it borders on Sudan. To the east there is a short land border with the Gaza Strip, controlled by the Palestinian Authority. With a total area of around 1 million square kilometers (386,000 sq. miles), it is about three times the size of New Mexico, but the vast majority of the 80 million people who live in Egypt are squeezed into a narrow, densely populated strip of fertile land close to the Nile.
Despite an economy that has rebounded in the last few years, Egypt remains mired in the problems all too familiar to states dominated by their armies. Corruption is endemic, administrative and political incompetence the norm, and heavy-handed security forces maintain political stability by means well outside what even Egyptian law permits. In spite of being beset by a myriad of problems, however, Egyptians remain a remarkably cheerful and open people with an admirable joie de vivre.
For the most part, tourism in Egypt is concentrated around Cairo, Luxor, and Aswan in Upper Egypt, and around two new centers -- Sharm el Sheikh and Hurghada -- that have been built in the last 25 years to serve the sun-and-fun industry on the coast of the Red Sea. Alexandria and the oases of the Western Desert, despite having as much (in some ways much more) to offer, remain secondary destinations.
Egypt is an easy country to get around, and services are generally quite economically priced, so spur-of-the-moment travel is quite practicable. Buying bus and plane tickets, making hotel reservations, and simply finding your way about a country with shaky infrastructure and almost nonexistent English-language signage can be time-consuming, however; for this reason, it's probably a good idea to take advantage of your travel agent for help booking some basic items before you go. At the same time, midrange and upper-range hotels in Egypt are set up to deal with block bookings from abroad much more efficiently than they can accommodate walk-ins, and your travel agent, or the companies listed here, in the "Packages for the Independent Traveler" section, will have access to substantially reduced prices on resorts and some adventure-travel services. However you choose to mix the ad hoc with the preplanned, this section will provide you with the resources that you need to make your Egyptian trip a hassle-free and pleasant adventure.