One of the many things to do in Cape Town is a visit to Robben Island – this world famous landmark just off the Cape Town mainland is a must-see for any visitor to the area.
Ferries leave several times a day from the V&A Waterfront. It’s always advisable to book in advance to avoid disappointment as this is a very popular attraction. The tour takes about 4 hours in total and involves a guided bus ride where visitors are shown the stunning view of Table Mountain, the limestone quarry where prisoners worked, the village, the WW2 gun emplacement ruins, the house where Robert Sobukwe was in solitary confinement, and the maximum security prison where Nelson Mandela and other struggle heroes were incarcerated. Prison tours are conducted by guides who were once prisoners themselves.
Robben Island is a fascinating place that has served various purposes over time and has always been of strategic importance for the Cape. As a UNESCO World Heritage site it is known for its present conservation efforts and most famous ex-prisoner, Nelson Mandela, but the island has a rich history going back many hundreds of years.
A few facts:
- It has been used as a victualing station, a leper colony, sheep breeding, World War II guardian post, prison, and now a museum.
- Wine made from vines planted on Robben Island more than 30 years ago was presented to Nelson Mandela on his 94th birthday. The wine is very exclusive and sold only at international charity auctions.
- The political prisoners once made a list of their favourite music – jazz was most popular, with Ella and Basie as number one.
- Prior to a visit by Hilary Clinton, a bus was being flown to the island by helicopter for her visit but the bus broke loose from its chains, fell into the sea and has washed up on shore – it is still there.
- Every year, on Valentine’s Day, it is traditional for couples to get married on the island.
- There is a conference venue with a guesthouse allowing delegates to stay over on the island.
- 31 shipwrecks are scattered around the island – the waters are treacherous!
- There are over 65 bird species on the island. This is an amazing feat after the intense wildlife destruction that took place over time. The penguin colony that was once almost decimated is also thriving now.