Robben Island
World Heritage Sites in South Africa

A Short Distance off the Coast of Cape Town

©Roger de la Harpe
Robben Island is located a short distance off the coast of Cape Town. It is within sight of Table Bay, Bloubergstrand, Sea Point and Camps Bay, and it is clearly visible from the top of Table Mountain. It is situated about 10kms away from the V&A Waterfront, and about 7kms from the beach at Bloubergstrand. Despite its close proximity to Cape Town, the island is naturally isolated from the mainland by a short but formidable stretch of cold, wild ocean. It is this paradoxical combination of remoteness and accessibility that made Robben Island such a useful prison.

The highest point on the island is Minto Hill, standing about 30 metres above sea level, and an attractive lighthouse stands atop this low rise. The depth of the sea between Robben Island and the mainland is also about 30 meters, and the island is actually joined to the mainland by a submerged saddle of land.

© David Fleminger

A Walking Tour on Robben Island

The best way to experience the real nature of the island is to walk it. I was lucky enough to be given the opportunity to do this for myself, and I can honestly say that my walk...more

Explore Robben Island

It is a small and isolated community, but it is enchanting. The kids walk freely to each other’s houses, doors are left unlocked, time slows down to the point of irrelevance....more

From Robben Island back to Cape Town

The ferry ride back to Cape Town is just as visually memorable as the ride out to the island. It is also a good time to sit back and reflect. Different people are bound to have different...more

Highlights of the Robben Island Tour

A highlight of the tour is the actual boat ride over to the island. The ferry takes about 30 minutes each way, and the views of Cape Town and Table Mountain are superb....more

Robben Island Became Internationally Known

During the apartheid years Robben Island became internationally known as the place where Nelson Mandela and the African National Congress elite were imprisoned....more

Robben Island Prison Tour

After the bus tour, visitors are deposited at the entrance of the Maximum Security prison for the emotional and rather distressing prison tour. This part of your visit is guided...more

Robben Island: A Political Pawn

In 1959, the Minister of Justice announced that Robben Island was going to once more become a prison. The military installations were relocated to the mainland and all access to the island...more

Robben Island: A Prison for Many

The first generation of political prisoners on Robben Island were Cape Khoikhoi who opposed Dutch rule and exiled rebel leaders from other parts of the Dutch East India Company’s empire...more

Robben Island's Road to Recovery

Today, thousands of people visit the former prison every week to experience for themselves the miraculous story of Robben Island. It is not always a pleasant pilgrimage...more

Struggle Heroes Imprisoned on Robben Island

Robben Island was not the exclusive preserve of the ANC. As has been mentioned above, thousands of ‘ordinary’ foot-soldiers were imprisoned on the island, along with other big names...more

The Early Days of Robben Island

Robben Island was first used by the Europeans, as useful stop for hungry sailors on their way to the East. There is little evidence to suggest that the indigenous people...more

The Fauna and Flora of Robben Island

There is a sense that Robben Island remains stubbornly untamed. Human Beings have tried to ‘civilise’ it by planting palm trees (now bent by the wind) and cultivating bright bougainvillea...more

The Historical Significance of Robben Island

Best known as the place where Nelson Mandela spent nearly 30 years of his life, Robben Island has further historical significance for South Africa. It was first used as a natural...more

The Journey to Robben Island

The striking, geometric design of the Gateway is unmistakable. Head up the broad stone stairs and walk through the tall, glass doors, and your journey to Robben Island has begun....more

The Leprosy Outbreak on Robben Island

Robben Island was an ideal place to send the mentally-disturbed, chronically poor and incurably sick, who would otherwise have depressed the healthy citizens of South Africa....more

The Military Years of Robben Island

The years from 1936 to 1960 were the proudest in the island’s long and mostly tragic life. These were the military years, when army and naval troops lived on the island and protected...more

Visit Robben Island

I first visited Robben Island in 1989, as part of a special school tour. It was still a functioning prison back then, and my recollections are of a dark and dismal place where the miasma...more