Once "home" to some of South Africa's most famous political prisoners, including Nelson Mandela, Robben Island is one of the country's most visited tourist attractions, and rightly so. Do not leave Cape Town without visiting the island – it is likely to be one of the highlights of your trip.
Robben Island is situated some 9km (5.5mi) offshore from Cape Town. Dubbed “Robben” (“the place of seals”) by Dutch settlers, the island was declared a World Heritage Site in 1999, and over the centuries has been used as a prison, a hospital, a mental institution, and a military base. It is most famous for being a political prison during apartheid, an era of racial segregation in South Africa, when many of South Africa’s most prominent freedom fighters spent time here. Nelson Mandela spent 18 years of the 27 years he was imprisoned on the island.
Take a tour to Robben Island
A tour of the Robben Island Museum begins at the Nelson Mandela Gateway at the V & A Waterfront (+27 (0)21 408 7600), where you can look through multimedia exhibitions, visit the museum shop and enjoy a meal at the restaurant while you wait for your ferry.
Ferries depart regularly from the gateway, and each tour takes approximately 3.5 hours. You will be guided around the island by a former political prisoner who will relay the history of the island, together with firsthand accounts of prison life, ensuring a personal and poignant tour. The tour takes you to the maximum security prison, and to Mandela’s cell in particular, which has been left in its original state.
A bus takes you to the lime quarry where Mandela and his fellow prisoners did hard labour. Additional stopovers include the Kramat (shrine) of Tuan Guru (a Muslim leader), the Lepers’ Graveyard and the house where Robert Sobukwe lived in solitary confinement for nine years.
Robben Island also has an interesting mix of flora and fauna and Murray Bay, the island’s small harbour, is home to 140 000 African penguins.
Cape Town Tourism keeps a list of operators who specialise in tours to Robben Island.
A trip to Robben Island
Read more about what you can expect from a trip to Robben Island on our blog: A photo essay of Robben Island
07h00 to 21h00 every day
Ferry departure times:
09h00; 11h00; 13h00 and 15h00
- Phone: +27 (0)21 413 4200
- Website: http://www.robben-island.org.za
- Physical Address: Robben Island
This cultural village aims to remind us of our origin and serves as the reservoir for African knowledge pertaining to nature and traditions, giving us an opportunity to celebrate who we are through music (wonderful sounds from live bands) or from its’ distinct fineness of cuisine, topped up with African (local) arts and crafts.
Hot summer sun, extra long days and warm nights, sun-kissed skin and time to spend with loved ones; summer in Cape Town is the ideal time to get outdoors and enjoy getting closer to the spectacular nature that is within minutes from the bustling city.
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Sybrand van der Spuy
A major disappointment. Although still a highlight in our Cape Town visit - the contemporary historical relevance is irrefutable and certainly worth visiting/experiencing - the whole visit smells of a loosely facilitated (will hate to use the word organized) money making industry. This goes for both sides of the boat trip and especially the boat trip itself - safety seemingly NOT a primary consideration. It was heartfelt and moving to hear firsthand jail experiences from our guide in the Maximum Security Jail on the island. Unfortunately he also intertwined his valuable tales with unmasked (seemingly personal and very skewed) political propaganda, vicious racist remarks and bordering on slanderous anecdotes - certainly not doing the SA history nor the Madiba legacy any favours. Unprofessional. With a little organization and cleaning-up this can be a visit of a lifetime, as it is meant to be!
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I have never forgotten my trip to Robben Island - it is a must for all visitors. Our guide had me in tears because of his integrity and forgiveness. I don't believe enough has been done for the ex-prisoners - they should be heroes