The Lionesses of the Serengeti: Dunia Camp, the all-female safari camp

In the middle of the Serengeti National Park, Dunia is a unique camp. Here everything is run and managed by women, and it is the best way to discover the wonders of the African savannah.

Las leonas dirigen el turismo en el Serengeti.

- © GUDKOV ANDREY / Shutterstock

As the 4x4 approaches the camp, music is heard. They are perfectly synchronised female voices whose words are not in English, but in the chorus you can understand the best-known invitation to the wild world: hakunna matata. The team - made up of 20 women - of Dunia Camp goes out to welcome each of its guests and does so singing a capella the original version of what later became the hit of The Lion King.

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Eight tents occupying more than 40 square metres each, plus the reception (with a lounge, terrace and dining area) and a fire pit are the entire infrastructure of this ecologically sensitive lodge. It is in the middle of the Serengeti, one of the oldest nature reserves and home to the Big Five: lion, leopard, elephant, black rhino and buffalo.

The plains through which the great migrations of thousands of wildebeest cross were for a long time areas of hunting, plunder and ecocide. But for more than 60 years there have been efforts to change the way humans inhabit this space. One of the most recent initiatives now breaks one of the most entrenched paradigms, that women are not capable of dealing with the realities of this complex, and sometimes dangerous, ecosystem.

Lion mating on the Serengeti plains

- © Cavan-Images / Shutterstock

The fact that Dunia - from the Asilia Africahotel group is one of the most sought-after campsites in the area proves that gender is by no means a limiting factor. "A good guide must be self-confident, compassionate, patient and well-informed," says Matemba, who at 26 years old is already considered one of the best guides to be found in this nature reserve.

"A man's job"

Tourism in the Serengeti is nothing new. Since the last century it has been a highly coveted destination as a window to that reality so far from the human, to the great animals that follow their rhythms and ways of life, to the birds that come from the other side of the world, to what we call the wilderness. But, because of cultural beliefs that go back many years, women were excluded from these jobs, arguing that they needed to know how to defend themselves and be far from human communities.

El turismo en el Serengeti no es cosa nueva.

- © Pierre Jean Durieu / Shutterstock

The work in the safari camps is not that of a normal hotelier. In addition to providing hospitality and pampering the guests, they also have to take care of security. Dunia, like most of the lodges in this area, is made up of tents (the ones here are very elegant and have all the comforts, such as en-suite bathrooms and wifi in the room) in the middle of the plains. That means that animals - yes, elephants, lions... - or cyclones can arrive, and you have to be able to cope with the trials of nature.

Also, since the main attraction here is the safaris, you have to drive 4x4s through difficult terrain, you have to be in what you would think is the middle of nowhere; if you get a flat tyre you have to change it, and if the radiator breaks down you have to know how to fix it, you can't call a tow truck here. "When I came to Asilia, as they like to empower women, they taught me everything: how to lift a car, how to change a wheel and how to handle anything we might come across. Now I go alone," Matemba said in an interview.

The twenty or so women who work here have been trained and coached so that the experience of those who come here is wonderful, enriching, safe and sustainable.

The story behind this women-led camp

Dunia did not really start as a women-only project, but after the arrival of Angel Vendeline Namashali, who was the first female manager of the place, they realised that there was a need for projects in the region that gave opportunities to women.

Vendeline opened that door after many years of struggle. Although she dreamed of going to university and studying medicine, she had to give up that path because there was not enough money at home. A cousin of hers, who noticed that Angel was not destined to stay at home and work, helped her get a job in a hotel, tidying the linen wardrobe. Her notorious ambition soon led her behind the reception desk, and then she earned the managerial positions. Years later, when she came to Dunia, where almost all men worked, Angel Vandeline was among those who pushed the idea of making it a camp run and managed by women.

"We wanted Asilia to be different: a force for good that not only contributes economically, but also in a progressive and sustainable way to the communities around us, including the empowerment of local women," said Jeroen Harderwijk, co-founder and CEO of Asilia Africa. The men who used to work in this camp started in other camps the group has in the region, a specialised training programme for women was implemented, and little by little the old paradigm that women have no place in this profession has been broken.

The result has been extraordinary. Similar initiatives have spread throughout the region, and the camp has gained a good reputation. Dunia promises an extraordinary service that allows you to enter the Serengeti through the awareness that care for life is crucial, without losing the comforts, safety and luxuries.

Venture into Dunia

Dunia, in Tanzania's central Serengeti, offers a privileged position for year-round safaris.

What you will find at Dunia Camp:

  • 8 tents (including 1 family tent)
  • En-suite bathtubs
  • Hot showers
  • Flush toilets
  • Free laundry service
  • In-room safe
  • Hotel is powered by solar energy systems
  • USB charger and battery charger in every room

Important details

  • Dunia is open all year round
  • The nearest airport is Serona, and then it's a 45-minute van ride.
  • Families are welcome, but the minimum age is five.
  • To see the big five it's best to go from March to June and November to December.
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by Sofia Viramontes
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