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Robben Island from Table Mountain

Robben Island[dead link] is in the Western Cape of South Africa, approximately 7 km off the coast and 12 km from Cape Town harbour. This island is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was used as a prison for opponents of Apartheid, including Nelson Mandela, and is now a museum.


Map of Robben Island


Maximum Security Prison)

The island was discovered by Europeans in 1488 when Bartolomeu Dias reached Table Bay.

Soon afterward it was put to use as a prison by the Portuguese, British and Dutch. From 1652 the island also served as a refreshment station for ships that did not wish to visit the mainland.

In 1658 the island saw its first political prisoner, Autshumato, who was repossessing livestock that was stolen by the new European settlers. He was tried and imprisoned on the island. Later the same century a number of people resisting Dutch rule over the East Indies were also shipped to Cape Town and incarcerated on the island.

When the British took control of the Cape in 1795 they continued to use the island as a prison and from the middle of the 18th century also used it as an asylum. In 1890 a leprosy colony was established on the island.

The South African Defence Force took control of the island in 1936 and improved the infrastructure by building new roads, a power station and housing.

From 1961 it was again used as a prison, primarily to house those opposed to the apartheid government of the time, notably Nelson Mandela.

Today the island is a museum and tourist attraction.


The highest point on the island is Minto Hill at 30 m. A lighthouse is built here.

Flora and fauna[edit]

There is a very well established penguin colony on the island, around 13,000 strong.

Get in[edit]

The ferry Sea Princess at the V&A waterfront.

Due to limited facilities and conservation efforts, visits to the island is restricted to 1800 people per day. The waiting time to visit the island can be up to two weeks, so if you plan to visit make sure that you book as soon as you arrive in Cape Town to avoid disappointment.

Expect to spend 4-5 hours for the ferry trips and the tour.

By ferry[edit]

  • 1 Nelson Mandela Gateway (Robben Island Museum Tour), V&A Waterfront (next to The Clock Tower, Silo District), +27 21 413 4200, . Daily tours at 09:00, 11:00, 13:00 and 15:00. Museum offices open from 07:30AM - 18:30PM. The ferries depart from the Nelson Mandela Gateway at the V & A Waterfront. The tour takes 3½ hours including the ferry trip to and from the Island. Tickets can only be purchased online, and there are only 1800 persons allowed per day. Booking in advance is essential. Purchase tickets here. Board the boat from the waterfront at least 30 mins before your departure time. International Adult R600. International child R310. South African adult R400, SA children R210.

By helicopter[edit]


Nelson Mandela's prison cell

Guided Tour of Robben Island Museum by ferry trip from The Nelson Mandela Gateway, at The V&A Waterfront. Prices: South African Adult - R400. SA Child - R210. International Adult - R600. International Child - R310.

Get around[edit]

On foot[edit]

The island is small, about 4.5 km long by 2.5 km wide.

By bus[edit]

A tour bus is operated on the island.



  • The prison where Nelson Mandela spent 18 years of his life.


  • Chanson de la Mer, (1986) at Shelly Beach
  • Han Cheng 2, (1998) in Rangatira Bay
  • Sea Challenger, (1998) in Rangatira Bay
  • Fung Thu, (1977) on the South of the island

Go next[edit]

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