Robben Island – Where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned

Robben Island

Robben Island prison

Robben Island prison

Robben Island is always towards the top of the list of things to do in Cape Town. Robben Island is most well-known for being the place where Nelson Mandela was incarcerated for 18 years of his 27 years as a political prisoner. Incredibly, after so many years of imprisonment, he became South Africa’s President after the fall of Apartheid, the first black president in the county’s history. He became an icon of democracy and social justice, and he received over 250 awards including the Nobel Peace Prize. He is described as the Father of the Nation of South Africa.

Robben Island lies just off the coast of Cape Town, about a 45 minute boat ride. Because it is so popular, we purchased our tickets about five days in advance to ensure we had the chance to go. The departure point was just a five minute walk from our ship, so it was extremely convenient to walk there. Sadly, even though I am living on a ship, I still get very nervous about boat rides and the movements. Smaller boats are a whole different experience, and I certainly did not feel great as we headed to Robben Island, and even worse as we came back to Cape Point later that afternoon (somehow, through fresh air and concentration, all of my lunch remained with me).


The tour of Robben Island is a structured guided tour. There were 5 of us that visited together, including Chika and three other Resident Directors. After arriving to the island, we jumped on a bus, which took us to the former maximum security prison, where Nelson Mandela was held. We were introduced to our guide, who was a political prisoner here for eight years in the 1980s. I wasn’t able to catch the guide’s name since our tour group was so large, but he took us through the prison. He showed us his prison cell, which was a group cell, meaning there were about 15 people in this same cell (this was used for prisoners who posed less of a “threat” to the government).

Our guide at Robben Island, a former political prisoner

Our guide at Robben Island, a former political prisoner

We were taken to where Nelson Mandela had planted his garden outside in this enclosed courtyard. We were then taken to Nelson Mandela’s actual jail cell, where he was imprisoned for so many years.

Nelson Mandela's prison cell at Robben Island

Nelson Mandela’s prison cell at Robben Island

Our guide giving a tour of his former cell

Our guide giving a tour of his former cell

After the formal tour of the prison, we were given a bus tour around Robben Island. While there were a few interesting stories about other prisoners and events, there wasn’t too much else to see. However, it was completely worth it to get to Robben Island!

About Trent

I started Frugal Purpose to share my love of personal finance to assist your pursuit of a more fulfilling life. I am a financial analyst by trade, traveler at heart, and want to share with you the beauty of this world.


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