A 30minute long ferry ride from Cape Town lays Robben Island (or in Afrikaans: Robbeneiland), probably the most well known island-prison on the planet because it has been the “home” to one of the world’s most famous prisoners, statesmen and leader’s Nelson Mandela. Nelson Mandela spent 18 years of the 27 years of his incarceration imprisoned on this island.
The island is listed as a World Heritage Site, and got its name from the Dutch word ‘Robben’ who means seal, reference to the seal population at the time.
Over the centuries, the island has housed not only a prison, but also hospital, mental institution, leper colony and a military base.
We had booked tickets for Robben Island a week in advance (it’s recommended to do so as it can be sold out), so early in the morning we got a taxi to pick us up at the guesthouse and drive us down to the Nelson Mandel Gateway at the V & A Waterfront.
Arriving the island the buses were already waiting for us. On the way from the ferry to the buses we passed buildings and a high wall built by prisoners during the 1960s. The buildings were used for family and lawyer visits to prisoners.
It was only a short walk before we began the guided tour to visit all the historical sites around the island, including the graveyard of people who died from leprosy, the Lime Quarry, Robert Sobukwe’s house, the Bluestone quarry and the army and navy bunkers. The last stop was to the maximum-security prison, and we met a former political prisoner who guided us. We think that this gives us and all other visitors a truly unique insight into personal accounts of prison life. And we also got the chance to see Mr. Mandela’s former cell, prepared exactly as it was when he was imprisoned there.
Mr Nelson Mandela’s cell
The former prisoner we met was Ntando Mbatha, and he talked about his experience at the Robben Island prison. He was sentenced to 7 years’ imprisonment on Robben Island for being a member of the ANC and for illegally entering and exiting South Africa.
When the tour was finished we had to hurry back to the ferry since the time flew by in the prison (everyone got the opportunity to ask what they were curious about). The walk from the prison and back to the ferry isn’t a long walk and it will take you only a couple of minutes.
The tour depart from the Nelson Mandela Gateway every day at the week at 9am, 11am, 1pm and 3pm (weather permitting). And takes about 3,5 hour including the ferry trip. The price for a general tour to Robben Island including ferry is 280 African Rand (approx. 23USD) for adults and 150R (12,5USD) for children.
During the tour it is possible to buy something to eat or drink as they stop by a small café/shop. Or, at least we got that opportunity on our tour.
We would recommend doing a tour like this, and the price isn’t bad at all so it’s worth it. On the ferry ride you might see some ocean creatures too, so it’s a nice trip out to the island. We saw several dolphins and something that looked like a shark or a small whale jumping around in the distance, it wasn’t as elegant as a dolphin, that’s for sure.