One of the most popular tourist attractions in Cape Town is Robben Island, where political prisoners were held during apartheid. Tickets are sought after and if you don’t book well in advance you could be out of luck. For many people, the visit is an emotional and eye-opening experience. Four centuries ago this infamous island was a way-station for passing ships and a prison for anyone opposing the settlers’ harsh rule. It also served as a leper colony, a military base, and now a museum and UNESCO heritage site.
The most famous prisoner of all is Nelson Mandela who spent 18 of his 27 prison years on this island. Visitors to the island are keen to see his cell but they will also have the opportunity of learning about the many other important prisoners who, with Mandela, collectively defeated apartheid with their various actions and efforts.
The best way to visit Robben Island is by means of a privately guided tour. You still need to take the 40 minute ferry ride across the bay with everyone else but once you reach the island you’re on a private tour. On arrival, you are met by an experienced island guide and driven around in a private vehicle, instead of a bus. This makes it a very personal experience. You may ask as many questions as you want; you get to see more of the island and you are permitted to go inside Nelson Mandela’s cell.
When visiting Robben Island privately, you visit and spend longer in Robert Sobukwe’s house and learn all about this man who is less well-known than Nelson Mandela but who played as important a role in the fight against apartheid. Not only did Sobukwe endure a terrible punishment, but he did not even live to see the end of apartheid. Read more about him here.
After a drive around the island with your private driver/guide you visit the prison in a more intimate manner and interact more closely with your prison guide. You have enough time at the end of the tour to visit the shop with its extensive selection of souvenirs. We strongly suggest visiting the island in this method but, be warned, it must be booked far ahead of time and costs a bit more than the regular visit.