Robben Island

Map of Robben Island

Robben Island is in the Western Cape of South Africa, approximately 7km off the coast and 12km from Cape Town harbour. This island is a 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 repossessing livestock that was stolen 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.

When the British took control of the Cape in 1795 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.

The South African Defence Force took control of the island in 1936 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, notably Nelson Mandela.

Today the island is a museum and tourist attraction.


The highest point on the island is Minto Hill at 30 metres. 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

By helicopter


Nelson Mandela's prison cell

Ferry trip and admission is R230 (R120 for children under 18 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.




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This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Saturday, June 27, 2015. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.