Robben Island, Western Cape
Did you know?
Robben Island was once connected to the mainland by a strip of land.
Perhaps the most impressionable aspect of a visit to Cape Town is a boat trip out to the former prison at Robben Island, a South African World Heritage Site that represents a critical chapter in the country's path towards democracy.
Here the leaders of the struggle against racial oppression, imprisoned for many long years, developed their concepts for a post-apartheid South Africa. Isolated from family and friends, the Mandelas, Sisulus, Mbekis, Kathradas and Sobukwes of the time proved heroic men of steel, never wavering in their hope of a new day. UNESCO's World Heritage Committee has chosen to mark this location for its 'triumph of the human spirit'.
The sombre Robben Island prison buildings are now the home of the Robben Island Museum. A standard tour of the site commences at the Nelson Mandela Gateway at Cape Town's V&A Waterfront. The ferry ride takes a half hour each way, leaving the tourist two and a half hours to absorb the emotive atmosphere of the island. Tours of the former maximum-security jail are generally led by former political prisoners, who draw a vivid picture of life in incarceration. The history of Robben Island is also sketched in a 45-minute bus tour. The island also has interesting bird and marine life.
As one of the world's great cultural world heritage destinations, Robben Island is memorable for both its tragedy and exultation, and its testimony to faith and spirit in the most humiliating of conditions. It is an excursion that stirs the soul.
Travel tips & Planning info
Who to contact
Robben Island Museum
Tel: +27 (0)21 409 5100
Nelson Mandela Gateway
Tel: +27 (0)21 413 4200
How to get here
By ferry, from the Nelson Mandela Gateway on the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town. Boarding gates close 10 minutes ahead.
Best time to visit
In the spring and summer months. During the Cape's rainy winter, the seas can be rough.
Around the area
Take a day trip around the Cape Peninsula - see the listed Cape Point Route website for details.
Tours to do
The Robben Island tour includes a return boat trip across Table Bay, a visit to the Maximum Security Prison led by an ex-political prisoner, a 45-minute bus ride with commentary, and the opportunity to explore the Murray's Bay Harbour attractions, such as the Muslim shrine and Museum Shop.
On the conducted tour you will be moved around the island by coach.
What will it cost
A tour to the Robben Island Museum costs R250 per adult and R120 per child under the age of 18.
Length of stay
The standard tour to Robben Island is 3.5 hours long, including the two half-hour ferry rides.
What to pack
Take walking shoes, a camera, a hat and don't forget that sunblock.
Where to stay
The V&A Waterfront has lots of great accommodation – check the listed Cape Town Travel website for options.
What to eat
Seafood delights at the various V&A Waterfront restuarants.