Robben Island & Nelson Mandela Gateway
Robben Island & Nelson Mandela Gateway information
Used as a prison from the early days of the VOC right up until 1996, this Unesco World Heritage site is preserved as a memorial to those such as Nelson Mandela who spent many years incarcerated here.
While we heartily recommend going to Robben Island, a visit here is not without its drawbacks. The first hurdle is getting a ticket – in peak times these often sell out days in advance. Reserve well in advance via the web, or book a ticket in conjunction with a township tour – many tour operators have access to blocks of tickets not available to the public. The packed guided tour allows a maximum of two hours on the island (plus a 30-minute boat ride in both directions). One of the former inmates will lead you around the prison. It seems a perverse form of torture to have these guys recount their harrowing time as prisoners here, but the best of the guides rise above this to embody the true spirit of reconciliation.
The standard tours, which have set departure and return times, include a walk through the old prison (with the obligatory peek into Mandela’s cell), as well as a 45-minute bus ride around the island with commentary on the various places of note, such as the lime quarry in which Mandela and many others slaved, and the church used during the island’s stint as a leper colony. If you’re lucky, you’ll have about 10 minutes to wander around on your own.
Tours depart from the Nelson Mandela Gateway beside the Clock Tower at the Waterfront. Even if you don’t plan a visit to the island, it’s worth dropping by the museum here, with its focus on the struggle for equality. Also preserved as a small museum is the Waterfront’s Jetty 1 , the departure point for Robben Island when it was a prison.