Image Gallery: Safaris
Image Gallery: Safaris

An African safari may be one of the most unique excursions you'll ever take, but you've got to do some research before you start packing. See more safari pictures.

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Picture this: You're about to set off on your big annual vacation with the whole family. Your flights are booked, the kids are out of school, and the suitcases are full of -- khakis and mosquito netting?

For some families, this isn't such a strange situation. Safaris have changed a lot since adventurers first started trekking the African wilds in search of elephant tusks and exotic animal pelts. In fact, with the rise of conservationism and a growing global and cultural consciousness, many modern safaris offer quite the opposite experience. With options for everyone from adventurous individuals to families and honeymooners, safaris are no longer reserved for machete-toting trophy hunters.

Sir Richard Burton, an English explorer who lived during the 1800s, is thought to have brought the word "safari" to the English language. The word is a Swahili term meaning a journey or expedition; it comes from the older Arabic word "safarīya." Today, "safari" can refer to the people who make a journey as well as the expedition itself [source: Collins English Dictionary].

It's believed that safari expeditions began as early as the mid-1800s with the so-called white hunters of Britain and Germany's African colonies. (The term refers to North American and European men who made their living hunting big game on the continent.) The title of first white hunter is still contested among experts today, but many credit the Scottish explorer R.J. Cunninghame as the pioneer of the African safari. After proving his mettle as a renowned hunter and sportsman, Cunninghame served as guide to other would-be explorers -- most notably, U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt and his son Kermit -- during their expeditions.

Although he wasn't a hunter, Carl Georg Schillings also made his mark among the first who explored the plains of Africa: Instead of bringing home furs and carcasses as trophies, he documented his excursions on film using homemade flash powder and an early version of a telephoto lens. His account of his travels, "With Flashlight and Rifle," was widely acclaimed across both Europe and the African colonies [source: Herne]. President Theodore Roosevelt himself also published a book entitled "African Game Trials" that detailed his experiences in what was at the time a vastly unknown territory [source: Kiger].

Ready to start your own exploration, but don't know where to begin? We've got tips on how to narrow down your safari options on the next page.