Classic Africa Safaris (CAS) co-founders and owners Phil Ward and Mel Gormley have a collective 75 years of experience in the East Africa safari business. They founded Classic in 2001 and are based in Entebbe, Uganda, offering services in both Uganda and Rwanda. The Classic Africa Safaris team’s history, the inspiration they each find in the wild and remote places that they call home and their deep expertise enables them to share those places carefully, exposing their raw beauty to CAS travelers. Get to know Phil, Mel, and more of Classic team here…
Phil Ward – Co-founder & Director
I was born and raised in Yorkshire, UK. Farming was my life’s interest and I earned an agricultural degree and worked in all areas of farming, but being a farm manager in the UK just didn’t cut it. Fueled by an itch to explore, I started a lifelong career in the travel industry driving an overland truck from London to Kathmandu. I later secured a position – based in Cairo – as a field manager and tour guide for a company operating trips throughout Egypt, Turkey, Israel, Jordan and Syria. The next frontier I dreamed of was Sub-Saharan Africa and I arrived in Kenya in 1984.
My first trip was driving from Nairobi to Kigali to meet an arriving tour group. For the time being, I was happy driving and guiding trips in Rwanda, then-Zaire (now DRC) and Uganda with occasional trips in Kenya and Tanzania (every day was a new adventure…and I loved it!). The companies I was working with wanted someone to market travel to all five countries, so I headed to the USA. I found myself managing operations based out of Kigali and doing 2-month-stints in the USA. I had great times guiding trips for a couple of US-based companies – mostly an affluent, fun-loving, G&T-drinking crowd.
In 1994, almost overnight, everything went wrong in Rwanda when the genocide unraveled the country. Zaire seemed a good option and so I headed there, but that quickly went pear-shaped, too! So, off to Uganda where I set up and managed operations based from Kampala and made the trek to the USA a few times a year. Tourism to Uganda started to grow – at the time it was the only accessible country where you could still see mountain gorillas. At this point, my plate was too full! Mel Gormely joined me to manage operations in Uganda and I found myself on the other side of the world living in the USA as marketing manager and making 3-4 trips to Africa annually. Finally, in early 2000, Mel and I branched off and launched Classic Africa Safaris and the rest is history!
Mel Gormley – Co-founder & Director
I was born and raised in the UK. In 1980, at the age of 17, I joined the Royal Navy as a mechanic. After my navy stint, I backpacked across Asia and Australasia, eventually landing a job in Australia as a truck driver. On returning to the UK, I bought and converted an old military Landrover and drove it overland to Morocco and back. After that trip, I came across a guy in the UK modifying a 4×4 army truck to take clients across the Sahara to West Africa. I helped him build the truck and off we went with 16 clients on a camping adventure through the Sahara!
At the end of the trip, I stayed with the truck in Abidjan and then drove to Accra to pick up another group of clients for a 3 month jaunt around West Africa. We attempted to cross the Sahel to Timbuktu, but mechanical issues and a distinct lack of water forced us to turn around. Finally back in the UK, I built another truck and took 26 clients on a 8-month overland trip from London to Harare. Two trans-Africa expeditions and several trips through East and Southern Africa eventually lead me to a position in Uganda managing a safari company (that was 1995). In 2000, Phil and I founded Classic Africa Safaris. I’ve lived in Entebbe since the 1990s and raised two sons there. I enjoy lakeside barbeques and taking my vintage military jeep out into the bush for long weekends.
Hilda Komugisha – General Manager
After completing a Bachelor of Arts in Tourism at Makerere University, working in both Uganda and Rwanda since 2006 has given me an appreciation not just for how beautiful my region is, but also for the unique dynamics that come with providing quality services therein. It has been a rollercoaster ride so far, but I cannot think of a better place to be.
Ensuring that our guests have the best possible experiences involves safari bookings, email correspondence, scheduling and managing – not just people – but their expectations as well. The pressure to successfully line up a safari can be Herculean but – I discovered this about myself – I love the challenge!
Thus far, my job has given me the opportunity to meet, work with, and learn from an incredible array of industry leaders and to travel extensively throughout Rwanda and Uganda.
It is challenging work, but I would be remiss if I didn’t admit that it is also extremely rewarding. Aside from the personal growth the work has afforded me, I can think of nothing more rewarding than the high of bidding a satisfied customer farewell and knowing that I will see them again when they return to my country.
Mandy Charnley – Rwanda Safari Manager
I’m a 25-year veteran of the travel industry. Born in South Africa and from a young age experiencing the joys of travelling and living through South Africa and Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) – the travel bug had bitten. Shortly after completing my tourism diploma, I moved to Maputo, Mozambique with my husband for a 2-year work contract, which ended up lasting 16 wonderful years. In Maputo as a travel agent, I specialized in Southern and East Africa, Asia and Australia.
I have travelled through several Asian and European countries and extensively through most of Southern and East Africa. As a family, we relocated to Uganda in 2012, where I joined Classic Africa Safaris as the General Manager, having since redirected my focus to managing Rwanda only and thus maximizing guest experience and delivering on the “dream come true” trip.
One of my highlights within Uganda was coming face to face with a HUGE silverback gorilla and I was blessed a second time when the silverback from Kwitonda group decided my foot was a good place to rest. Witnessing the mountain gorillas in the wild is truly an inspiring moment that everyone should have the opportunity to experience.
Cissy Nantume – Safari Manager
I was born and bred in central Uganda, a Muganda by tribe. Today, I live and work in Entebbe near the shores of beautiful Lake Victoria. While growing up, I was fascinated by the natural wonders found in Uganda. I was eager to travel and explore new destinations and, hence, developed a desire for others to do the same. After my primary and secondary education, fueled by my love for adventure, I earned a Bachelor’s degree in Tourism Management at Makerere University.
Thereafter, I worked as an intern at Holiday Express Hotel for about 3 months. I then landed my dream job in tours and travel operations at Classic Africa Safaris which I have enjoyed for 10 years and counting. My passion is organizing safari adventures for others and ensuring that they run smoothly without a hitch. In addition to managing all aspects of logistics on Uganda and Rwanda safaris, I enjoy singing, dancing, reading, traveling, watching a good movie and learning about other cultures.
Lyndsay Harshman – Uganda Sales Manager
I started exploring the world beyond North America in the late 1990s. At 19 years old, I first set foot in Kenya where I did environmental biology fieldwork in the Masai Mara and studied cultural traditions at a university in Nairobi. With the warm African air flowing through my lungs, I didn’t look back. From surfing in Morocco to trekking in Ethiopia’s Simien Mountains, and from road tripping through Namibia to snorkeling in Mozambique, I’ve been exploring the continent for twenty years. I’ve hitchhiked through Kenya, done guide training courses in the Serengeti and even climbed Tanzania’s active Ol Doinyo Lengai volcano!
A few years ago, my young son and I based ourselves in Arusha for a season, practiced our KiSwahili and explored in “Surfie,” our trusty Toyota Surf. Finally, in 2018, after more than 15 years of working with Phil and Mel in several facets, I joined the CAS team in-house to relieve Phil from the daily grind to manage Uganda sales to our international agents and partners. I’m happy to be assisting many of my long standing colleagues and travel industry friends again.
Ahsha Nanyonga – Sales Consultant
I joined Classic Africa Safaris in 2013 and I have over 10 years of experience in the tours and travel industry. My desire and love for travel is manifest through my commitment to helping people fulfil their dreams of discovering new places and cultures through their remarkable travel adventures in Uganda and Rwanda.
I hold a Bachelor’s degree in Tourism Management from Makerere University in Uganda therefore I have an educational background in tours and travel. I enjoy outdoor activities like hiking and walking and traveling to fascinating destinations all over the world. My favorite travel destinations so far are Egypt, Singapore and Malaysia
Lydia Nakalembe – Client Liaison Officer
As the Classic Africa Safaris client liaison officer, I’m usually the first face and voice clients interact with when they land in Uganda, East Africa for their experience of the continent. I’ve filled this key role in the CAS team since 2005. Briefing travelers on what lies ahead on the journey and finding out the highlights of their trip upon their return to Entebbe makes my day!
I’m a graduate of Makerere University with a B.A. in Tourism Management and am passionate about nature and the environment. I have to say that I truly have a green thumb and in my spare time, I dabble in and research the effectiveness of herbal remedies that I cultivate in my backyard garden.
I love traveling in my country and I’ve visited all the country’s major national parks more than once. Additionally, I have taken several road trips around East Africa and cherish making new friends wherever I find myself. I’m also the mother of two busy sons.