Robben Island

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Robben Island

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Map of Robben Island

Robben Island [1] is in the Western Cape of South Africa, approximately 7km off the coast and 12km from Cape Town harbour. This island is an UNESCO World Heritage Site.



The island was first discovered by Europeans in 1488 when Bartolomeu Dias reached Table Bay.

Soon afterward it was put to use as a prison by the Portuguese, British and Dutch. From 1652 the island also served as a refreshment station for ships that did not wish to visit the mainland.

In 1658 the island saw its first political prisoner, Autshumato, who was stealing back livestock that was confiscated by the new European settlers. He was tried and imprisoned on the island. Later the same century a number of people resisting Dutch rule over the East Indies were also shipped to Cape Town and incarcerated on the island.

In 1795 the British took control of the Cape. They continued to use the island as a prison and from the middle of the 18th century also used it as an asylum. In 1890 a leprosy colony was established on the island.

In 1936 the South African Defence Force took control of the island and improved the infrastructure by building new roads, a power station and housing.

From 1961 it was again used as a prison, primarily to house those opposed to the apartheid government of the time.

Today the island is a museum and tourist attraction.


The highest point on the island is Minto Hill at 30 m. A lighthouse is built here.

Flora and fauna

There is a very well established penguin colony on the island, around 13,000 strong.

Get in

The ferry Sea Princess at the V&A waterfront.

Due to limited facilities and conservation efforts, visits to the island is restricted to 1800 people per day. As at 1st February 2008 the waiting time to visit the island is two weeks, so if you plan to visit make sure that you book as soon as you arrive in Cape Town to avoid disappointment.

By ferry

Ferries leave the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town six times a day. Trip time to the island is about 30 minutes. Book in advance, ph: +27 (0)21 413-4208. For information, ph: +27 (0)21 413 4200. Tickets can also be booked online via the Robben Island Museum website [2].

Be sure to book the trip to Robben Island in advance as the tours are usually booked up for several days ahead.

By helicopter

Contact Civair, +27 (0)21 419-5182.


Ferry trip and admission is R230 (R120 for children under 17 years).

Get around

On foot

The island is small, about 4.5 km long by 2.5 km wide.

By bus

A tour bus is operated on the island.



  • The prison where Nelson Mandela spent 18 years of his life.


  • Chanson de la Mer, (1986) at Shelly Beach
  • Han Cheng 2, (1998) in Rangatira Bay
  • Sea Challenger, (1998) in Rangatira Bay
  • Fung Thu, (1977) on the South of the island

Get out

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