Robben Island - Tours du Cap
One of the best views of Table Mountain and the city of Cape Town is from Robben Island – photo: Sheila Wilson

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.

Visiting Robben Island privately - Tours du Cap
The lighthouse built in 1865 on the highest point of the island, Minto Hill – which is not very high. It issues a flashing light rather than a revolving lamp and is visible up to 24 nautical miles away. Photo – Sheila Wilson
Robben Island - Tours du Cap
Previously, this was the Prison Governor’s home and now a guesthouse for overnight stays. Photo – Sheila Wilson
Robben Island - Tours du Cap
Ferraria crispa – a beautiful flowering bulb that does not smell as nice as it is pretty! Photo – Sheila Wilson
Robben Island - Tours du Cap
The island was a heavily defended military base during WW2. Photo – Sheila Wilson
Robben Island - Tours du Cap
The island is surrounded by shipwrecks but this yacht is way above the water line, almost in the middle of the road. Photo – Sheila Wilson
Robben Island - Tours du Cap
Ilyas Salie – one of our favourite guides on Robben Island – in the Robert Sobukwe House.
Robben Island - Tours du Cap
Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe visitor centre. Sobukwe was imprisoned in a separate house from the rest of the prison inmates and he was never permitted to speak with them during his entire prison term. His wife was permitted 2 visits a year, with their children. Solitary confinement like this drove him to despair and his physical health suffered. He was released and banished to a small town under house arrest and died not long after. The saddest aspect of this man’s sacrifice is that he did not live to see any positive outcome to his struggles, unlike Nelson Mandela who realised his dream to its fullest extent.
Robben Island - Tours du Cap
Robert Sobukwe’s family was permitted longer visits and this is where they slept. The children are shown in the photographs.
Robben Island - Tours du Cap