Africa's come a long way since the days when its uncharted expanses earned it the moniker of the "Dark Continent," but it still retains the mystery that brought explorers there in the 1800s [source: Brantlinger]. At an expansive 11,686,111 square miles (about 18,806,972 kilometers), it's not hard to see why many modern travelers return to take in as much as possible of what Africa has to offer [source: National Geographic].
Most safari-goers start with either the southern or eastern regions: Southern Africa is home to countries like Zimbabwe and Botswana, and eastern Africa includes countries like Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda. You'll also want to account for weather and migration schedules if you have a vested interest in seeing a certain type of animal [source: Go2Africa].
While safari expeditions used to be reserved for the hardiest of hunters and explorers, some feel that they've become commonplace enough to suffer from their popularity -- enough that National Geographic's Colleen Clark dubbed the majority of modern safari vacations "fly in, bump around in a jeep, photograph the Big Five, have a sundowner, fly home" type operations. However, many safari organizers are beginning to focus on creating more hands-on experiences for tourists. (If you're confused about the Big Five, we discuss that more on the next page.)
One way they're doing that is by weaving ecotourism -- travel that emphasizes cultural and environmental responsibility and conservation -- into the African safari experience [source: The International Ecotourism Society]. This can take almost any form, ranging from assisting wildlife trackers to replacing hunting expeditions with photography trips.
Safari-goers are also focusing increasingly on cultural and interpersonal interactions, and travel organizers are beginning to offer opportunities not just to observe local culture but to actually become a part of it. Tourists are given the chance to meet local tribe members, join cultural rituals such as initiation hunts and just gather for some good local beer [source: Clark].
As you might expect in the case of an international, hands-on vacation, solid research is key. The Internet is a good place start (just make sure you're using reliable and consistent sources), and your local bookstore or library usually has a wide variety of books on all kinds of travel. However, even if you're a hardcore do-it-yourselfer, don't discount the value of advice from a qualified travel agent who's been there and done that (and has some good references). To get you started, we'll explore a few common destinations on the next page.