South Africa Table Mountain

Awe-inspiring Robben Island, Nelson Mandela's
place of imprisonment for 18 out of 27 years

Robben Island has become a world renown symbol and reminder of the dark days of Apartheid and the immensely courageous freedom struggle. The island is situated in Table bay just offshore from Cape Town harbour and approximately 7 km west of Blouberg beach.


Declared a World Heritage Site in 1999, it served as one of the most brutal places of banishment and imprisonment of dissidents and political opponents the world has known.

Only 1.9 km wide and 3.3 km long, this small insignificant island rises only a few meters above sea level.

In fact it is the flat top of a hill that used be dry land in ancient times, linked to the mainland by a dry strip of land.

When the Portuguese discoverers and later the Dutch colonists first set eye on the tiny island, they quickly recognized it as a perfect place for putting away unwanted people. And that is exactly what the Island has been used for right from the start.

Aerial view of Robben Island with Table Mountain on the horizon - Amazing Robben Island tour, visit Nelson Mandela prison cell
Aerial view of the Island with Table Mountain on the horizon
Amazing Robben Island tour, visit Nelson Mandela prison cell
copyright © South African tourism

Entrance to the Robben Island prison complex from the disembarkation quay - Amazing Robben Island tour, visit Nelson Mandela prison cell
Entrance to the Island's prison complex from the disembarkation quay
Amazing Robben Island tour, visit Nelson Mandela prison cel

Adversaries of the Dutch colonization efforts in southern Africa and Asia, people who stood up against British empire building in Africa, Muslim leaders, those suffering from leprosy, criminals, mentally ill patients and not so long ago all those who opposed the Apartheid system, were all bundled off to the island. It was also used as a military base during the Second World War.

Old prison photo showing prisoners after disembarkation, lined up to enter the prison - Amazing Robben Island tour, visit Nelson Mandela prison cell
Old prison photo showing prisoners after disembarkation, lined up to enter the prison
Amazing Robben Island tour, visit Nelson Mandela prison cell

The Island became famous as a symbol of the brutality of the Apartheid system and a symbol of immense courage of those who fought it. It is here were past South African president Nelson Mandela served 18 of his 27 years of imprisonment, together with past president and current deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe (10 years), current president Jacob Zuma (10 years) alongside 3000 others.

View of Nelson Mandela's 3 x 3 meters prison cell on Robben Island - Amazing Robben Island tour, visit Nelson Mandela prison cell
View of Nelson Mandela's 3 x 3 meters prison cell
Visit Nelson Mandela prison cell
copyright © South Africa tours and travel.com

Hard labour by prisoners in the court yard of Robben Island prison, crushing stones - Amazing Robben Island tour, visit Nelson Mandela prison cell
Hard labour by prisoners in the court yard of the prison, crushing stones
Visit Nelson Mandela prison cell
copyright © South African tourism

Today the ex-prisoners of the Island prefer not to remember it as a monument of their hardship and suffering, but rather as a monument highlighting the victory of human character and spirit over the forces of evil.

The Robben Island ferry on its way to the island from Nelson Mandela gateway at the V&A Waterfront
The ferry on its way to the island from Nelson Mandela gateway at the V&A Waterfront
Amazing Robben Island tour, visit Nelson Mandela prison cell
copyright © South Africa tours and travel.com

Declared a world Heritage site by UNESCO in 1999 and having been turned into a national museum, the island has become a pilgrimage destination for hundreds of thousands of tourists each year.

Tourists walking on the Robben Island quayside with the ferry in the background - Amazing Robben Island tour, visit Nelson Mandela prison cell
Tourists walking on the Island's quayside with the ferry in the background
Amazing Robben Island tour, visit Nelson Mandela prison cell

A round trip to the island, where ex-political prisoners will take you on a guided tour, takes about 3.5 hours, including two 30 minute transfers (there and back) by boat. On the island there are guided tours conducted by former political prisoners who will tell you the story of their ordeal, often with hair raising details.






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