Choose your country and language:

Africa

  • Global
  • Angola
  • Botswana
  • DRC
  • Ethiopia
  • Ghana
  • Kenya
  • Malawi
  • Mozambique
  • Namibia
  • Nigeria
  • South Africa
  • Tanzania
  • Uganda
  • Zambia
  • Zimbabwe

Americas

  • USA
  • Argentina
  • Brazil

Asia Pacific

  • China
  • India
  • Japan
  • South Korea
  • Australia

Europe

  • France
  • Germany
  • Italy
  • Netherlands
  • United Kingdom
Back
Western Cape

You are only moments away

Attractions
Museums
Culture
History
Affordable
Family
Accessibility
Cape Town
People
Popular

AAs you make your way through the corridors of Robben Island, you get transported to a time in South African history where the country reached a turning point. Standing in the jail cell that housed Nelson Mandela for so many years brings to heart the emotional story of the South African struggle for democracy and equality.

A trip to Robben Island is a bittersweet experience but is a must do for anyone visiting Cape Town.

Robben Island reinvented itself many times over the years, once a leper colony, a mental hospital and defence training base, this World Heritage Site is most famed as the prison for anti-apartheid activists like our former president, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela.

Did You Know?
RRobben Island is home to one of the oldest prisons in South Africa as well as the surrounding region.

WWhen you step foot on the island, you’re able to see the cell in which Mandela, the world's most famous prisoner, was held for 18 years of his 27-year incarceration. It’s a place many come to be humbled and to pay homage to the father of South African democracy, including the likes of former US president Bill Clinton and current US president Barack Obama.

OOn “the island”, as it became known, the leaders of the struggle against racial oppression forged their political thinking and the relationships that would become a feature of post-apartheid South Africa. It was also here that Mandela emerged as a leader of the African National Congress. But when Mandela arrived on the island in the winter of 1964, the conditions he encountered were harsh.

Prisoners were confined to small cells with only a sleeping mat and bucket toilet. Each morning they were woken up at 5:30 to empty their buckets and start another day of hard labour. Black prisoners received an inferior diet compared to their white and coloured counterparts. Even more cruelly, they were deprived of contact with their loved ones, limited to a half-hour visit a year from a family member, and only two letters.

Robben Island

Food
When to visit
How to get here

PPrisoners were confined to small cells with only a sleeping mat and bucket toilet. Each morning they were woken up at 5:30 to empty their buckets and start another day of hard labour. Black prisoners received an inferior diet compared to their white and coloured counterparts. Even more cruelly, they were deprived of contact with their loved ones, limited to a half-hour visit a year from a family member, and only two letters.

The island became an informal “university”, where the prisoners who were to become the next generation of political leaders in South Africa spent many hours in debate and discussion.

IIsolated from family and friends, Mandela, Walter Sisulu, Govan Mbeki and Ahmed Kathrada, among others, proved themselves to be men of steel, never wavering in their hope of a new South Africa. It was for this reason that UNESCO's World Heritage Committee chose to mark this location for its “triumph of the human spirit”.

Today, you can catch a ferry ride to what is now called “The Robben Island Museum”. The standard tour starts at the Nelson Mandela Gateway at Cape Town's V&A Waterfront and takes around 3.5 hours in total (the boat ride is half-an-hour one way).

To add to the immersive experience, tours are often led by former political prisoners who draw a vivid picture of life in prison. The history of Robben Island is also sketched in a 45-minute bus tour.

It’s one of the world’s greatest cultural heritage destinations both for its tragedy and its triumph. It is a testimony to the true spirit of the South African people and history, and will never fail to humble you and give you perspective.

Who to contact
How to get here
Best time to visit
Around the area
Tours to do
Get around
What will it cost
Length of stay
What to pack
Where to stay
What to eat

Related articles

Art and science - The Cape Town Museum and Planetarium

Vibrant culture
Art and science - The Cape Town Museum and Planetarium

A walk up the beautiful Company’s Garden, at the top of Cape Town, takes you to the South African Museum.

Cape Town City Hall – A grand old building.

Vibrant culture
Cape Town City Hall – A grand old building.

Cape Town City Hall – A grand old building.

Explore St George's Cathedral, the oldest cathedral in southern Africa

Vibrant culture
Explore St George's Cathedral, the oldest cathedral in southern Africa

At St George's Cathedral, the church kept its doors open to people of all races throughout the apartheid era.

Houses of Parliament –The heart of Cape Town

Vibrant culture
Houses of Parliament –The heart of Cape Town

Houses of Parliament –The heart of Cape Town

Drakenstein Correctional Centre

Vibrant culture
Drakenstein Correctional Centre

Drakenstein Correctional Centre

Nobel Square - A tribute to great men

Vibrant culture
Nobel Square - A tribute to great men

Tribute to great men Nobel Square, Cape Town

Chavonnes Battery, Cape Town

Vibrant culture
Chavonnes Battery, Cape Town

At the V&A Waterfront, visitors can view the ruins of the Chavonnes Battery, which has a remarkable story to tell about the early occupation of the Cape by the Dutch East India Company. But the battery also has much more to offer the visitor ...

Explore South Africa while sowing the seeds of rural upliftment

Vibrant culture
Explore South Africa while sowing the seeds of rural upliftment

Have you heard of Agritourism? This is a category of tourism that provides visitors the opportunity to experience everyday life on working farms, ranches, wineries and agricultural industries.

18 July 1918 to 5 December 2013 Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela

Vibrant culture
18 July 1918 to 5 December 2013 Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela

With Nelson Mandela's passing, he will be remembered for his generosity of spirit and the remarkable achievement of bringing peace to a deeply divided country.

Zeitz Museum of Contemporary African Art (Zeitz MOCAA)

Vibrant culture
Zeitz Museum of Contemporary African Art (Zeitz MOCAA)

Zeitz Museum of Contemporary African Art (Zeitz MOCAA)

Spice up your holiday with a Cape Malay cooking safari

Vibrant culture

It’s all about Malay for a day in Cape Town!

Vibrant culture
It’s all about Malay for a day in Cape Town!

Cape Malay Heritage Tours are a great way for culturally-minded travellers to experience one of the Western Cape’s oldest and most distinctive societies.

Oudtshoorn - The capital of the Klein Karoo

Vibrant culture
Oudtshoorn - The capital of the Klein Karoo

Inland from the Cape’s famous Garden Route, over breathtakingly beautiful mountain passes, magnificent red rocks and the wide open spaces of the Klein Karoo, you’ll find Oudtshoorn – once known internationally as the ostrich capital of the world

South Africa and its jazz scene

Vibrant culture
South Africa and its jazz scene

Jazz fans from around the world appreciate the skill and vibrant talent of South African jazz musicians.

District Six Museum -Decades of memories

Vibrant culture
District Six Museum -Decades of memories

This museum in Cape Town seeks to reconnect with the spirit of the community and provide a different interpretation of the past.

Cape Town's vibrant Bo-Kaap and its museum

Vibrant culture
Cape Town's vibrant Bo-Kaap and its museum

Colourful Bo-Kaap has a fascinating history and unique culture just begging to be explored.

South Africa on social media

Copyright © 2018 South African Tourism
|Terms and conditions|Disclaimer|Privacy policy