Robben Island, the place where former South African president Nelson Mandela spent 18 years of his 27-year incarceration, is a bucket list experience for tourists visiting Cape Town. The island is home to fascinating history and boasts some of the most scenic views of Table Mountain.
Here’s everything you need to know about the well-renowned UNESCO World Heritage site:
History of Robben Island
Robben Island is a UNESCO World Heritage site and has served as a whaling station, a leper colony and most notably a political prison from the 17th to the 20th centuries, where former president Nelson Mandela spent 18 years of his 27-year incarceration. It takes its name from the Dutch word for seals (robben), which is why the Dutch/Afrikaans name Robbeneiland translates to Seal(s) Island. The island got its name from the large number of seals that once populated its shores. After the end of Apartheid, the prison shut down and the island opened its doors to visitors.
Nelson Mandela Gateway to Robben Island
Named after South Africa’s former president, the triple-story Nelson Mandela Gateway to Robben Island glass museum links the V&A Waterfront with the island. Located at the Clock Tower precinct of the Waterfront, visitors also board the passenger ferry to Robben Island from here.
Robben Island Museum
Established by the Department of Arts and Culture in 1997, Robben Island Museum is a public entity responsible for conserving and marketing Robben Island as a World Heritage Site. The museum runs several educational programmes designed to conserve the attraction’s natural and cultural heritage. These include the maximum and medium security prison complexes, Robert Sobukwe’s House, the Muslim Moturu Kramat, the Village Precinct, Lime Quarry, and the Church of the Good Shepard.
Attractions at Robben Island
Nelson Mandela Prison Cell: Former South African president Nelson Mandela’s prison cell on Robben Island is one of the most popular attractions on the island. Mandela was imprisoned on Robben Island for 18 of his 27 years in prison.
Moturu Kramat: Moturu Kramat is a sacred Islamic shrine located on Robben Island. The Kramat is the tomb of Sheikh Abdurahman Moturu, a revered Muslim leader exiled to Robben Island in the late 1700s.
Robert Sobukwe House: Robert Sobukwe was a prominent South African anti-apartheid activist and leader of the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC). The Robert Sobukwe house is located in the precinct of the former maximum-security prison on Robben Island.
The Garrison Church: This small chapel on the island was built by the British in the 1800s and used as a place of worship by British soldiers and political prisoners.
The Robben Island Lighthouse: This lighthouse was built in 1864. Visitors can climb to the top for a great view of the island and the surrounding ocean.
Tour information and pricing
A trip to Robben Island is only accessible aboard a ferry from the Nelson Mandela Gateway at the V&A Waterfront. There are several different tour types, with the general tour being the most popular option. The ferry to the island departs from the V&A Waterfront 4 times a day from Monday to Sunday, with the first trip departing at 9AM.
Other options include educational tours for school learners designed to educate and expose young people to elements of South Africa’s rich heritage that are embodied in the island’s multi-layered history.
Prices for the Robben Island general tour start from R400 per adult and R210 per child (South Africans).
For more information on the various tour types, click here: www.robben-island.org.za/tour-types/
All tours are weather and demand permitting.