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Robben Island

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On Robben Island (Robbeneiland in Afrikaans) off Cape Town is one of the most notorious prisons of all time - Nelson Mandela, among others, was imprisoned here for 18 years. Today it is open for tourists as a memorial to serve as a cautionary reminder of South Africa's darkest times.

Tours usually include a round trip by ferry and a tour of the complex with a visit to Nelson Mandela's cell.
Klaus KainzBy Klaus Kainz
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Tours to Robben Island

Discover offers from different websites for a tour of Robben Island.
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Township and Robben Island Combination Tour
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Cape Town: Robben Island Ferry Tour with 1-Way Hotel Pickup
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Cape Town: Robben Island Ferry Ticket and Townships Tour
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Robben Island Tickets, Penguins, and Private Cape Point Tour
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4 Tips for Visiting the Robben Island

Robben Island Prison Entrance | Flickr: April Killingsworth CC BY 2.0
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Book in AdvanceAs tickets for the tour to Robben Island are often sold out months in advance, it is advisable to book them early online. Remaining tickets are sold at the Nelson Mandela Gateway at the V&A Waterfront.
Watchtower | Unsplash: Grant Durr
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Don’t Underestimate the SunSince a majority of the tour also takes place on the outdoor facilities, it is advisable to be equipped with sunscreen, hat and sunglasses to avoid sunburn.
African Penguins at Robben Island | Flickr: Meraj Chhaya CC BY 2.0
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Admire the NatureRobben Island also has beautiful sides: Within the island’s nature you can find 132 species of birds alone, penguin colonies as well as more than 30 different land animals such as deer. But above all, you should observe the seals. This is where the name of the island comes from; it comes from the Dutch word for seals (robben). The island itself is the top of an underground mountain.
Ferry | Unsplash: Grant Durr
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Prevent SeasicknessFor those who get seasick quickly, it is advisable to take appropriate medication an hour before you begin the crossing to Robben Island. The waters between Cape Town and the island can be quite rough.
Prison Walls | Unsplash: Grant Durr

Robben Island: Memorial to South Africa’s Dark Past

The guided tour through the museum on Robben Island vividly illustrates the injustice done to political prisoners here until 1991. As a memorial, Robben Island has an impact beyond South Africa and makes the consequences of this former state of injustice tangible.

A long history of injustice

Since the 17th century, the island has repeatedly been used as a prison, as escape is virtually impossible due to the strong current in the sea. First European colonialists used the island for prisoners, but also in the 19th century as a hospital for people who were considered socially unfit because of mental illness. However, the high-security prison that operated on the island from 1961 to 1991 became particularly infamous.

Escape during the colonial era

Only one person managed to escape from this prison twice: David Stuurman, one of the first political prisoners on Robben Island. The revolutionary, now celebrated as a hero, was considered problematic by the colonial regime, which is why he was imprisoned in 1809, and again in 1820 after his first escape. After Sturman managed his second escape, the British colonialists had him transported to a prison in Australia, where he died after his release. In 2021, Port Elizabeth Airport was renamed Chief Dawid Stuurman International Airport.

Political oppression

Robben Island got its fearsome reputation during apartheid, the period of so-called 'racial segregation' in South Africa during the 20th century. Anyone who actively rebelled against the racist social order was taken to the camps on the island and imprisoned. Thus, there were mainly political prisoners in the prison. Tthey had to perform hard labor in the quarries and lived in inhumane conditions.

A formative time for Nelson Mandela

The most famous prisoner was undoubtedly the later South African president and Nobel Peace Prize winner Nelson Mandela. Not only did Mandela already begin writing his memoirs on Robben Island. Through his commitment, he managed to improve the living situation in the prison with the solidarity of his fellow prisoners. Thus, after successful protests, the prisoners were allowed to study on site, which is why the prison was later given the unofficial name 'Mandela University'. In Mandela's later government, eleven other members were former prisoners on Robben Island.

Museum and UNESCO World Heritage Site

Beginning in the 1990s, apartheid in South Africa finally saw its end and political prisoners were released from Robben Island. In 1996, South Africa officially made the island a national museum, and since 1999, Robben Island has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This is because, according to UNESCO, the site symbolizes the triumph of the human spirit, freedom and democracy over oppression.

Evaluation until today

The Robben Island Museum archives several contemporary documents to this day and handles them scientifically. The different archives possess a huge catalog of time-historical photos, interviews with prisoners, works of art against apartheid, films, and also historical objects from the prison, like prisoner clothes and other utensils.

Frequently Asked Questions

How long does a visit to Robben Island take?

The regular tour takes about 4 hours, plus half an hour to for each ferry ride. Read more.

May I take photos?

Ja. Fotos dürfen aber nicht für kommerzielle Zwecke gemacht werden. Drohnen sind außerdem untersagt. Read more.

Is there any catering on site?

No, so it is important to bring enough snacks and drinks for the tour on the island or to have a substantial breakfast or lunch beforehand. Read more.

Are tours cancelled in case of bad weather?

Yes. In this case, you will receive a refund of the ticket price. All tickets can also be changed up to 48 hours before the tour for an extra fee. Read more.

Is a visit to Robben Island suitable for children?

There is no formal age restriction. Because the tour is long, it is more recommended for families with older children, ages 12 and up. In addition, guardians should be aware of the stressful subject matter of the historical facts presented. Read more.

General Information

Opening Hours:

Tours usually depart daily at 9 am, 11 am, 1 pm or 3 pm. Please be there 30 minutes before departure.

Tickets:

Ticket prices are 600 R for adults without South African citizenship, including ferry, and 310 R for children and youth under 18. Locals pay 400 R for adults and 210 for children.

Address:

Robben Island Museum
Private Bag Robben Island
Cape Town 7400

How to get there:

The easiest way to get to the Nelson Mandela Gateway (where ferries for the island depart), is via taxi or a hop-on hop-off bus. Alternatively, southern line trains and bus numbers A01F and IC06 stop relatively close to the V&A Waterfront.
Klaus Kainz
Written byKlaus KainzAs a studied historian, Klaus is not only interested in historical sights, but also in their fascinating backgrounds. For TicketLens, he gets to the heart of the most interesting information about attractions and travel destinations.
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