Discovered in 1488 by Bartolomeu Diaz, Robben Island has been everything from a waypoint for sailors, a ‘storage’ for sheep and a leper colony. However its most famous claim to fame is its incarceration of Nelson Mandela for 27 years.
Since the first democratic elections in 1994, the island has become a popular tourist destination. In 1999 the island was declared a World Heritage Site for its importance to South Africa’s political history and development of a democratic society. A ferry from the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront in Cape Town can be taken for tours of the island. Many of the guides are former prisoners. Administratively, the island is open for tourists all year around, weather permitting.
How to get there:
The island is accessible to visitors through ferry tours that depart from Cape Town’s waterfront. Tours depart four times a day (09h00, 11h00, 13h00 and 15h00) and take about 3.5 hours. All ferries depart from the Nelson Mandela Gateway at the V & A Waterfront.
When you arrive you’ll disembark at Murray’s Bay Harbour situated on the east coast of the Island and take a short walk to buses which is where your tour guides will be waiting.
Things to do:
The prison tour will be conducted by a tour guide, many of whom were previously incarcerated on the island. The tour route includes the graveyard of people who died from leprosy, the Lime Quarry, Robert Sobukwe’s house, the Bluestone quarry, the army and navy bunkers plus the Maximum Security Prison where thousands of South Africa’s freedom fighters were incarcerated for years. The tour culminates with a viewing of Nelson Mandela’s cell, a true highlight.
Best place for a photo:
The most popular place for a picture is of the cell where Nelson Mandela spent his days. This was also where he wrote his amazing book ‘A Long Road to Freedom’. With this inspiration in mind another option is to take a photo of Table Mountain from the island. You won’t get this option from anywhere else on the peninsula.