For 18 of his 27 years of incarceration for opposing apartheid, former South African President Nelson Mandela was imprisoned on Robben Island. See the prison cell where he was kept and learn about the history of this former island-prison. It was also used at various times to house convicts, the mentally ill and lepers.
Visits to the island are by guided tours only. Tours start with a 5.5-mile (9-kilometer) ferry ride from Cape Town across Table Bay to the island. While you are waiting for your boat to leave the Nelson Mandela Gateway, go to the exhibition space. It hosts an ever-changing roster of temporary exhibitions featuring the island’s history.
Once on the island, you will be taken on a guided bus tour of key sites. Some of the guides are former political prisoners who share stories of their time in jail.
See Bluestone Quarry where many political prisoners endured hard labor. Visit the leprosarium graveyard, the final resting place of patients with leprosy who died while on Robben. Look at the Kramat, a Muslim shrine in honor of Sheik Madura, who died here in 1754. During the bus tour, you will mostly remain on the bus, with occasional stops at important sites.
The highlight of the tour is a walk inside the maximum-security prison. Stop by the small cell where Nelson Mandela was confined for many years. While you are on the island, you will also see army and navy bunkers and the 19th-century Church of the Good Shepherd, which was built by the island’s lepers.
Tours of Robben Island depart several times daily from the Nelson Mandela Gateway at the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront. Tours last for approximately 4 hours, including the round trip on the ferry, a visit to the maximum-security prison and the guided bus tour. Reductions on the ticket price are available for children under 18 years. Children under the age of 4 visit for free. Tickets for the tours sell out fast so book a few weeks prior to the day of your intended trip and be sure to arrive at the ferry at least half an hour before departure.