The car of 1 2 Travel Africa at sunset

In Malawi you’ll experience the best of Africa!

Well organised, without losing the sense of adventure. Personal attention and eye for detail. Sustainable, but in no way boring. Warm hospitality combined with being down to earth. Enthusiastic and always keen on new experiences. And most of all, a huge passion for the people and nature in Africa.

Is that what you wish for during your Dream Holiday to Africa? Then we’re looking forward to creating new memories with you in Malawi!

Dilo and Hessel in 2013 at Lake Duluti in Tanzania

How our love for Africa started 11 years ago

In February 2013, we, Hessel van Balen and Dilo van Commenee from the Netherlands, met during an Eco & Wildlife study trip to Tanzania. We instantly connected on all levels. During this very special trip, we already started planning our next adventure.

After our graduation, we were given the opportunity to work for two months at a lodge with a private nature reserve in Hartbeespoort Dam, South Africa. The owner of that lodge told us that the company had actually been closed for months, because he couldn’t find suitable management and other staff. While we were dealing with overdue maintenance, he kept looking for managers.

After a week or two we decided together with him to open the lodge for a weekend, because of a national holiday in South Africa and therefor potential bookings.

The young Hessel Dilo as lodge managers South Africa

And it got pretty busy too!

We had some hospitality experience, but we had no clue how to run a lodge with 26 beds. While the first guests literally drove through the gate, we were still running around with chocolates for on the pillows and soap bars for in the bathrooms. Chaos!

The guests must have realised that we had no idea what we were doing, but it turned out to be a nice weekend. With our Dutch down to earth mentality and common sense, we managed to get through it.

In the meantime, no one else had been hired yet, so we were (on our own initiative) promoted to lodge managers. And cleaners, handymen, receptionists, chefs… It was a roller coaster of welcoming guests, making beds, frying eggs, washing sheets, cutting grass, painting fences and after every thunderstorm a swimming pool in fifty shades of green.

It was hard work, but smiling guests and positive reviews made it all worth it.

Read here our blog about 10 lessons we’ve learned from life in Africa the past 10 years.

Hessel and Dilo holding South African tree tags

Activities in the African bush

We gradually decided that we would focus entirely on the management of the nature reserve. There was plenty to do to revive ecotourism activities here. This is also when our good friend Howard Baziwell came to work with us, not yet knowing that we would one day live in his home country Malawi. More about that later…

We bought our own “bakkie” (pick-up vehicle) with benches on the back to do Game Drives. We trained new guides to take guests on Bush Walks and together with a group of interns, we developed a beautiful hiking trail in the adjacent Magaliesberg Mountains.

The absolute highlight was taking over the care of a herd of eleven horses. Now we could also offer Horseback Safaris, the most special way to experience the African bush. What a dream come true!

Hessel en Dilo met een giraffe tijdens een safari te paard

We were very lucky to have been in the right place at the right time. In combination with following our intuition, perseverance and not being afraid to ask for things, we also started our own travel organisation 1 2 Travel Africa, to help more people to explore this extraordinary and diverse continent.

A road trip through southern Africa

Halfway through 2019, we received the news that the South African government didn’t want to renew our work permits. And honestly, we had already gotten some more hints from the Universe that it was time to move on…

So, we started looking for a new home for ourselves and 1 2 Travel Africa. Without leaving the continent, of course!

With our rooftop tent on the way to the Warm Heart of Africa

This is how a great adventure began on 29 August 2019. Together with our two dogs JayJay and Mocha, we went on a special roadtrip through Botswana and Zambia. With a fully loaded car on our way to Malawi. This “Warm Heart of Africa” is the home country of our friend and colleague Howard. After years of listening to his stories, we decided to build a new life here. Howard didn’t hesitate for a second to join as well!

Malawi is working hard on nature conservation, and the government is keen to further develop ecotourism, so we feel completely at home here. It’s a country where we are genuinely welcome and where we can make a positive contribution.

Perfectly at home in Malawi

The move to Malawi felt great from the start. We still fall in love with this special country more every day.

During the C pandemic, tourism came to a standstill everywhere, but our lives went on. Once again, our down to earth mentality and common sense got us through.

In the first few months, we kept going by offering a pet sitting service to all expats who suddenly left the country. When the initial panic disappeared and people came back to Lilongwe, we had to think outside the box again.

Hessel and Dilo in the water

We befriended someone with a building project near Monkey Bay at Lake Malawi. He couldn’t be there permanently himself, so we were allowed to live there for free in exchange for help. While the world was in lockdown, we lived quite isolated on one of the most beautiful beaches in the country. Thanks to the nice employees there, we also learned a lot about life in a remote (fishing) village in Malawi.

At the beginning of 2022, our future in the travel industry started to look more positive again, and in June we decided to move back to Malawi’s capital Lilongwe.

Now our company is showing so much growth, for which we are very grateful and excited!

So, what exactly are we doing now in Malawi?

Together with a motivated team, we run Africa House and Mitengo House, two of the best rated lodges in Lilongwe. Kuwona Cottage in Senga Bay, Lake Malawi, is since 2023 also a part of our portfolio.

Dilo and Hessel in front of Africa House in Lilongwe

Adjacent to the breathtakingly beautiful Dzalanyama Forest Reserve, we manage and protect a piece of nature. We will start offering horse rides in this area from early 2024. One of our greatest passions is finally coming back into our lives!

Howard is working hard to develop this place, SaddleFields. In addition to preparing for horseback riding, we have started creating a permaculture garden and a food forest.

Here too, all pieces of the puzzle seem to fall into place, because SaddleFields is close to Howard’s home Chifungo Village. It was so special to be able to meet his family after all these years. And now you can too, because there is the possibility to experience the real rural life in Malawi during a Homestay Experience!

Hessel and Dilo meeting Howard's family in his home village

As icing on the cake, more and more people know how to find us for making their Dream Holiday to Africa come true. Each new booking is an opportunity to make more travellers fall in love with the country where we feel so incredibly at home.

You have come to the right place for sustainable and authentic travel. For those who, like us, choose their own path and don’t just follow the crowds!


We’re looking forward to seeing you here in Malawi. Are you ready to lose your heart?

Then click here to schedule your free Meet Malawi video call!

Hessel, Howard and Dilo with the dogs Mocha and JayJay

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