Robben Island – Cape Town

The first time I visited Cape Town was a weird experience. I left the plane, took a shuttle to a hotel, had a one-day conference in the hotel, shuttle back to the airport and off to Pretoria.

While driving back to the airport I looked up from the window and Table Mountain was just visible. At that moment I realised for the first time that I was in Cape Town, pretty sad right?

Fortunately, I got a second chance two years later. Okay, I was in Cape Town for business again, so normally there is no time for sightseeing. Luckily I finished on a Friday and this time my flight back was scheduled on Saturday….and oh gosh how annoying, there was only an evening flight available……

Together with a (former) colleague we decided to climb Table Mountain that day (read cableway, because a proper work out would have been a waste of time). So there was time left to visit Robben Island, the island where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned. I did not have this place specifically on my bucket list, but once in Cape Town it is really a no-brainer.

View on Robben Island from Table Mountain

Make sure you book your tour in advance, because tickets could easily sell out for the day. You can do this online via the Robben-Island website or visit the Robben Island Museum at the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town. This is also the location where the ferry will depart.

I was 11 years old when Nelson Mandela was released from prison (by the way, he was no longer at Robben Island at the time). Too young to understand how special that moment was, however I can still remember it was all over the news. Only later did I realise how bizarre the whole apartheid policy is and that Nelson Mandela (and many others) has been imprisoned for so long because he fought against apartheid.

On this sunny afternoon we embarked on a small ferry and I was glad the sea wasn’t that rough. Robben Island felt so peaceful and serene, which is ironic because everything but peaceful things happened on this island. The view towards Cape Town is stunning and it seems so close. We came across a couple of funny inhabitants, a group of mini penguins who blocked the road.

View on Cape Town

Funny little penguins

The moment you enter the prison people stop talking or at least lower their voices. It’s like visiting a church, mosque or a temple. I am not a religious person, but I very much like to visit religious buildings because of the tranquil vibe. In my experience Robben Island had a similar vibe.

All visitors solemnly queued up to walk through the small corridors of the prison and slowly you pass Nelson Mandela’s cell. It is hard to imagine that Nelson Mandela lived in this small cell for about 18 years. It’s one of those moments where you have to reflect on your own “important” and convenient life. What was so important again?

Nelson Mandela’s cell

Miracles do exist. Nelson Mandela became president of South Africa in 1994, 4 years after his release. He always tried to convince people he wasn’t a saint, but if you still inspire people all over the world I believe he is. It is so sad the world has lost such a remarkable person. Someone who always kept believing in the kindness of people and in forgiveness.

It was time to leave Robben Island, it was windy and the sea wilder so I preferred to stay on deck. Cape Town approached fast and in no time we docked at the ferry terminal. From the waterfront I looked back over the water and saw the tiny island. What a special place…….it is definitely a must see for everyone visiting Cape Town.


Click on Lonely Planet Cape Town to buy on The Bookdepository or click on the book below to buy on Amazon.

Share this blog via:

You may also like