Experiencing dramatic history – Robben Island Museum, Cape Town

Cape Town is one of my favorite cities. It is one of the must beautiful cities on our planet – and it also has a captivating history. If you are visiting Cape Town for the first time, Robben Island should be on your itinerary. Nelson Mandela was imprisoned here for 18 years during the struggle to overcome apartheid and a visit is an impactful part of understanding the history of South Africa.

South Africa is the only African country that has made the transition from colonial rule to successful and peaceful democratic rule. I’d recommend to read Nelson Mandela’s book “The Long Walk to Freedom” in preparation for your visit to South Africa. It’s the, sometimes shocking, always captivating story of South Africa’s struggle for freedom from Apartheid, and it helps to understand the South Africa of today. If the book is too long for your taste, you can check out the movie.

RobbenIsland GuideWhy should I care? A visit to Robben Island helps to make the story become very real. Starting with the cold boat ride from Cape Town, with the city slowly fading from view, setting the mood for the trip. After arriving at Murray’s Bay harbour, you will be welcomed for your tour of the island by your guide – all of them former inmates of the prison, who can share the story and their personal experience like nobody else could. The tour will take you past a former leper colony, the quarries the inmates had to work at, bunkers and military installations from the defenses of the island and Cape Town, to the maximum security prison that housed Nelson Mandela for 18 years as well as other political prisoners. The tour will take you into the prison and to the tiny cell of Nelson Mandela. While I often prefer to explore a museum on my own, the guides are really the ones who create the mood of the place through the stories they tell and the details they provide. Even though the prison might not look much different than other old prisons no longer used, it is they who leave a very haunting memory of this place through their story. The story of Nelson Mandela and Robben Island have lessons for all of us and it is a site not to be missed!

RobbenIsland Mandela CellWhat else do I need to know? The tours to Robben Island are very popular and often sell out, especially during summer. You can book the tours online (here) and should do that well in advance of your visit to make sure you get to see it! The tours take 3.5-4.5 hours, including the ferry ride. The ferries leave from the Nelson Mandela Gateway at the V&A Waterfront throughout the day. Tickets are approximately $25 for adults, $13 for children. You can find current prices, schedules, a map and a good overview of the island here.

Even though it might not qualify as a “fun” day, it is a very memorable tour and should be on everybodies itinerary for Cape Town!


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