Visiting Robben Island

A Tourists Guide To Visiting Robben Island in Cape Town, South Africa

When traveling to Cape Town, South Africa, visiting Robben Island should be the top of your list if you love historical sites.

Robben Island is a unique and memorable experience for anyone who loves learning about important pieces of history. And if you aren’t familiar with the significance of Robben Island, the trip will leave you with a heartfelt experience.

Being both into history and knowing about Nelson Mandala, I was really excited to check out this part of Cape Town.

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What Is Robben Island Famous For?

Robben Island is literally an island about 4.3 miles off the coast of Cape Town, South Africa. It can only be accessed by a ferry boat that leaves from the V&A Waterfront.

Before becoming President of South Africa, Nelson Mandela was imprisoned on this island for 18 years. As were hundreds of other political prisoners. Most of whom were unjustly put here.

Robben Island has so much historical significance, I could go on for hours. But I’ll make it brief for now! (You will learn a lot of the history of Robben Island on your actual tour).

The island was first discovered in 1488 and started off as a place they sent diseased citizens. Most were separated from their families and basically sent there to die. It’s a sad part of history when you hear some of the stories.

In the 17th century, it become an a prison for political prisoners. Keep in mind, that doesn’t mean murderers or worse. Political prisoners are people who fought for their rights in politics and arrested solely for their beliefs.

This continued all the way until the 1990’s… literally that recently! Mendela was held where from June 1964 to March 1982. You can read more about Nelson Mandelas experience in prison and as President in his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela. 100% worth the read!

Ok, let’s get on to the details!

Robben Island Ferry and Prison Tour

Finding all the information on this tour that I needed was pretty tough so I decided to write this guide to help make it easier!

A few things to know:

  • This tour books up FAST. You cannot wait until the day before to get a ticket. I highly suggest at least a week in advance, if not sooner.
  • There is only one way to get there. There are not several companies that offer this tour. You HAVE to go with the one and only company that offers it.
  • The ferry is located at the V&A Waterfront, near the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art (set your Uber location to get dropped off here)
  • The ferry runs at limited times. You buy your ticket for a ferry time, it takes you out there and returns you at an exact certain time. Basically, you all go together, you all come back together.

Is Robben Island Worth a Visit?

In my opinion, yes. If you have little kids who don’t understand history, they might not enjoy themselves. This definitely is a tour worth seeing for people who enjoy both significant pieces of history, and unique things to do.

I didn’t know much about Cape Town or Robben Island, but I knew who Nelson Mandela was. Visiting Robben Island was on my list of things to do in Cape Town because I knew I may never get another chance to visit something so historical.

But visiting Robben Island not only helped me understand more about Mandela, but also the other prisoners who lived there and the impact on politics in South Africa. It was an amazing lesson and made me want to learn more about both Mandela and South Africa.

So if you are someone who likes to learn more about the history and culture of the places you visit, then Robben island is definitely worth visiting.

*I had some friends join me on this tour where weren’t really into it and didn’t really care, but by the end, they were super glad they went and really enjoyed themselves.

Where to Buy Robben Island Tickets

There are really only 2 ways to buy tickets to visit Robben Island. By either their direct website at https://robbenisland.plankton.mobi

Or by going to a tour company like Viator, where you can often get better deals booking tours with other Cape Town attractions.

How To Get To Robben Island

Don’t search around! You literally only have one choice!

Robben Island can only be seen through the Robben Island Museum. They have a ferry that takes you to the island, gives you a tour, and brings you back. This ferry is the only way to get out there and only runs at certain times.

Visiting Robben Island: What To Expect

On to the good stuff! What is it like visiting Robben Island?

I won’t give away all the details! But some times its good to know what to expect.

The Ferry Ride:

The ferry ride to Robben island from the V&A waterfront takes about 30 minutes. It’s not a luxury boat! Its very basic seats all crammed together.

What I enjoyed about the ferry ride is that they have TV screens all over the boat and for those 30 minutes, they play a video about the history of Robben Island, starting all the way from the 1400’s until current day. So you have an opportunity to learn about the island, Nelson Mandela, and what the island was used for.

The boat ride is a bit bumpy. Im not one to ever get seasick but this one had me getting a little nauseous at time. Make sure you bring some seasick meds just in case!

Visiting Robben Island

Arriving at the Island:

When your ferry drops you off, they lead you to a few tour buses. On the bus, you have a tour guide who explains what you are seeing as you drive through different parts of the island.

You’ll get to see several different prisons, as well as a few cemeteries and even some living quarters of island staff.

Visiting Robben Island

Halfway through your bus tour, they drop you off for a quick break to use some bathrooms and get a snack or a drink. Don’t expect anything too much. It was room temperature soda and a few bags of chips.

Then you hop back on the bus and are driven to one of the main prisons for a prison tour. Once you arrive here, you are met by a tour guide who will walk you through the prison.

Visiting Robben Island

Here’s the exciting part! The tour guide is an ex prisoner who once was incarcerated on Robben Island. They walk you through different areas and tell you not only what life was like here but a lot of their own personal experiences. our tour guide even explained what he was charged with and some of the tortures he endured.

Having an actual political prisoner walk you through Robben Island was an experience I will never forget.

Our Amazing Tour Guide

Nelson Mandelas Cell:

One of the last places you stop is to see the jail cell where Nelson Mandela lived during his time on Robben Island.

Standing is the same spot as not only Mandela, but President Obama, gave me chills. And seeing the living conditions of these prisoners was mind blowing.

Because this is such a popular spot, you basically only get a minute or two to take it in, take a photo and move on for the next person.

Nelson Mandelas Cell
Nelson Mandelas Cell
Standing in the same spot as Barak Obama by Mandelas Cell

Leaving the Island:

After Nelson Mandela’s call, you take a short and easy walk back to the ferry. There is a small gift shop there as well as some more bathrooms. you board the ferry and head back to Cape Town.

Visiting Robben Island in Cape Town

If you have any questions about visiting Robben Island, just leave a comment in the section below and I’ll do my best to answer them!

If you’ve had a chance to visit the island, I would love to hear about your experience there as well!

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