Historic Robben Island, South Africa

A prison island may not be your conventional tourist spot but not when it is the famous Robben Island of South Africa. Situated 5.5 miles off the coast of Cape Town, Robben is now one of the must-sees for any tourists visiting the stunning South African city.

Although you are not going to Robben Island mainly for the natural attractions, it is still a privilege to visit it because of its rich and highly significant history. The island was once a mental institution, a military base, a hospital and most famously, a penal colony for over 400 years. In 1997, it was made into a museum and by 1999, it was declared a World Heritage Site.

Robben-Island- South-AfricaDuring the apartheid- a period when racial segregation reigned in South Africa, political prisoners were detained at Robben Island. The most famous among freedom fighters that were imprisoned here is no other than the great Nelson Mandela.

Mandela spent 18 years of his life as a prisoner on Robben. But as history teaches us, Mandela’s time on the island only helped him become one of the most prominent political figures not only in the country but in the entire world. Thus, coming to the island can be a very educational and inspirational experience.

Fortunately, the public is welcome to visit this fascinating island, and most visitors sign up for a tour around the museum. Since the island is only accessible by boat, the tour starts by taking the ferry from the Nelson Mandela Gateway at the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront, where ferries depart regularly. Here, you can view multimedia exhibitions, browse around the museum shop or dine at a restaurant. The usual tour lasts for more than 3 hours, and it involves being guided by a former political prisoner, who will give first hand stories about being detained and life in prison.

The history of the island will also be discussed quite extensively. The tour begins with an hour long bus ride around the island. Then, the bus will stop by the lime quarry, where prisoners spent a lot of time working. The highlight of the tour is Mandela’s cell, which has been preserved in its original state for all to see. This famous cell is located in the maximum security section of the prison complex.

But the cells are not the only fascinating thing to see. Other interesting landmarks on the island include the Lepers’ Graveyard, the Kramat (shrine) of Tuan Guru, and Minto Hill, where the oldest lighthouse in the Southern Hemisphere stands. A visit to Robben Island also comes with added treats. When you head out to the island’s small harbor called Murray Bay, you will be pleasantly surprised by the sight of more than 100,000 African penguins.

You can book the Robben island tour tickets on your own. You can purchase the ticket at the counters situated at the Nelson Mandela Gateway. However, it is highly recommended that you make the booking well in advance especially during summer, which is considered peak tourist time. You can also arrange the booking through one of the many Cape Town-based operators. The cost of the tour includes the ferry ride to the island and back. The ferry departs hourly from 9 am to 3 pm, and a one-way ride takes about 30 minutes.

About Author:

Arie Boris has extensive travel industry experience, including business and sales development for commercial aviation, the International emergency assistance & travel insurance industry and a national association of travel agents. He was a contributing editor to several print and Internet travel publications, including Fieldings’ Worldwide Cruise Guide and was part of the start up team for CruiseCritic. He has written over 400 cruise ship reviews. Arie also produces and hosts Cruise Gourmet Voyages, a variety of fundraising & theme group cruises for various charitable and arts organizations. He has produced theme cruises for a variety of special interest groups including opera, comedy, spiritual retreats and fan clubs for TV shows like Dark Shadows and Dancing with the Stars!