Tours of Robben Island - South Africa's infamous ex-penal colony primarily used for political prisoners - are led by ex-inmated and explore the island and its history, providing guests first-hand accounts of life in the prison. The island is considered one of South Africa's top historical attractions after becoming a museum in 1997 and declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999.
All tours depart with a ferry ride from Cape Town's V&A Waterfront. The journey takes around 30 minutes, giving visitors plenty of time to admire the views of Cape Town and Table Mountain. The crossing can be quite rough, so those who suffer from seasickness are advised to take tablets. If the weather gets very bad, the ferries won't sail and tours are canceled.
The tour begins with an hour-long bus tour of the island. During this time, tour guides describe the island's history and ecology, including its use as a military base and leper colony. The tour includes the limestone quarry where Nelson Mandela and other prominent ANC members spent many years doing hard labor. At the quarry, the guide will point out the cave that doubled as the prisoners' bathroom and 'university'.
After the bus tour, guests are led to the maximum security prison where more than 3,000 political prisoners were held from 1960 to 1991. If the guide on the bus wasn't an ex-political prisoner, the guide for this part of the tour certainly will be. It is humbling to hear stories of prison life from someone who experienced it firsthand. Please acknowledge the Guide's experience - most visitors are only interested in Nelson Mandela's story.
Although its maximum security prisons have now closed, the island remains famous as the place where former South African president Nelson Mandela was an inmate for 18 years. Many leading members of political parties like the PAC and ANC were imprisoned alongside him. It has become an extremely important symbol for the new South Africa, reflecting the triumph of democracy over apartheid and the ongoing journey towards racial tolerance.