Robben Island: No heritage site is an island – except this one

2014-09-24 18:45

We continue the celebration of our World Heritage Sites with Robben Island this week. Denise Slabbert offers a wealth of tips to make your visit one for the family album

How to get there

Robben Island is 9km off the coast of Cape Town and is accessible by ferry from the V&A Waterfront, which is about 20km from Cape Town International Airport along the N2 highway (it should take about 20 minutes to get there from the airport).

There is decent parking all around the Waterfront. You can also catch a MyCiTi Bus at Breakwater station, and there are daily trips to and from the V&A Waterfront from key points in the city.

There are regular flights to Cape Town from all of South Africa’s major urban centres (look out for specials or sales on budget airlines such as Mango or, travel to Cape Town by car or take one of the tour buses that travel regularly to the Mother City.

What to take with you

A hat, sunglasses and sunscreen are important, as are comfortable walking shoes. Cameras are allowed on the island.

It is always a good idea to take a light jacket, sweater or something else warm with you because the weather can change quite quickly, and it can get a bit chilly on the boat when the wind comes up.

If you have small children with you, make sure you are prepared and take a change of clothing, nappies, etc.

Timing is everything

You need to make sure you arrive 30 to 35 minutes before scheduled departure and bear in mind that the gates close strictly 10 minutes before departure time and there are no refunds.

You’ll only have a ticket refunded if the voyage is cancelled by Robben Island Museum. Tickets are not transferable. If the need arises, you can reschedule your ticket, but this must be done 48 hours in advance (subject to a small administration fee).

Eating and drinking

You can enjoy a meal or a drink at the restaurant at the Nelson Mandela Gateway while waiting for the ferry. Very basic drinks and snacks are available for purchase on the main ferry and at the cafeteria on Robben Island.

It is advisable to take refreshments and snacks – all permitted – as provisions might be limited. Eating and drinking is permitted on the ferries and there are places to discard litter.

Tours on offer

There are three tours on offer – a general tour, an educational tour (for schoolchildren) and special tours.

The general tour runs four times a day, every day of the week – capacity can sometimes be increased if demand is high. Visitors disembark at Murray’s Bay harbour (on the east coast of the island) and will be transported around the island by bus.

Specialised tours can be arranged any day of the week and last between three and a half and eight hours. Dedicated ferries for a particular group can be arranged or participants can take the regular ferry and commence the special tour once on the island.

These special tours are for VIPs (famous visitors to the island), protocol (heads of state and international dignitaries) and private (for individual groups).

There are three ferries that can transport you to and from the island: Sikhululekile is the main ferry, carrying 800 to 1?200 visitors a day. Then there is the Susan Kruger, which was once used to transport members of staff and political prisoners between Robben Island and the mainland.

It is now a service ferry. The Dias, like the Susan Kruger, was also used to transport staff and political prisoners to and from the island.


Don’t miss the various exhibitions that have been put on by Robben Island Museum, including the exhibition at Jetty 1. A new exhibition has just been launched by the Robben Island Museum – an exhibition of Nelson Mandela’s cell, which visitors can view at the Nelson Mandela Gateway.

Places to stay

There are loads of fantastic places to stay in and around Cape Town and there is accommodation to meet visitors’ every need.

You could go up-market and stay at the One&Only Cape Town, but if you are on a more modest budget, there are budget-friendly city hotels and bed and breakfasts to choose from.

The V&A Waterfront is aimed more at the luxury traveller, but head into town and you’ll find other options. There are also various backpacker options for the young at heart.

Cape Town Tourism has an excellent guide for visitors that will point you in the right direction in terms of accommodation.

TIP: It is always a good idea to book your accommodation before your trip.

Things to do

.?Since you’ll be visiting the V&A Waterfront, pop into the Two Oceans Aquarium if you’ve never been before. If you are travelling with kids, this world-class aquarium is a must.

.?The Iziko Maritime Museum is another place of interest if you love boats, harbours and all things fishy. For something with a little glamour, the Cape Town Diamond Museum gives insight into the incredible history of diamonds and gems in South Africa.

.?Have your photograph taken with the statues of South Africa’s Nobel laureates at Nobel Square and, for fun, pop into the Springbok Rugby Museum in Portswood House. There are loads of shops if you’re in need of retail therapy and, for the kids, there are a number of child-friendly activities on offer.

Fabulous food at the V&A Waterfront

There are loads of fabulous restaurants at the V&A Waterfront. For a treat, go to Mondiall (brainchild of South African celebrity chef Pete Tempelhoff), while Meloncino, Willoughby & Co, Balducci and Den Anker are all worth a visit. Pull up a chair at one of the restaurants overlooking the harbour and enjoy a fresh seafood platter and a glass of wine from a vineyard just down the drag.

Cape Town attractions

Once you’ve enjoyed a visit to Robben Island and the V&A Waterfront, it’s a good idea to explore further afield. Put the following on your list of essential places to visit:

.?The colourful streets of Bo-Kaap and the fascinating Bo-Kaap Museum

.?The Constantia winelands – for a bit of wine and history all rolled into one

.?Take a City Sightseeing tour, or a Canal Tour of the V&A Waterfront

.?The Castle of Good Hope

.?A trip up to the top of Table Mountain via the cableway

.?The beaches of Clifton and Camps Bay

.?The “Boomslang” canopy tour at Kirstenbosch

.?The District Six Museum and the Iziko South African Museum

.?Long Street by night

.?You might want to head off in any of the following directions – Hout Bay (just for the drive); Kalk Bay (for the food at Olympia Café and to see the boats come in); Muizenberg for the surf; Simon’s Town for the naval history; Boulders Beach for the penguins; and Stellenbosch for more food, wine and fabulousness.




Tel: 021?409?5100

Nelson Mandela Gateway is situated at Fish Quay at the V&A Waterfront

For information on exploring Cape Town, visit the Cape Town Tourism website:

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