The authenticity of Robben Island

The authenticity of Robben Island

It has been at least five years since my last visit to Cape Town. In the past, the thought of visiting Robben Island didn’t really appeal to me as I had negative thoughts of it being a “tourist trap”. This time, I put my negative thoughts to one side and booked a tour through “Get your guide”. There were a few options such as having a private tour, a walking tour or the general tour. There are also different price categories should you be a South African resident or International visitor. I chose the basic general tour with departure in the afternoon for my daughter and myself (there is also a free pick-up at a hotel option). It is required that you take your passport or ID or a paper copy to present with your ticket. The tour starts at the Nelson Mandela Gateway, near the Clock Tower at the Waterfront. Arriving in plenty of time, we could read about the history of Robben Island going as far back as 1421 with the arrival of the Chinese under Admiral Zheng, to 1999 when Robben Island was declared a UNESCO heritage site. 

The tour starts with a boat transfer to Robben Island taking 25-30 minutes. As one is not allowed to wander around the island alone, upon arrival there are buses ready to transport us to the various historical sights of the island. Our first stop was the prison (where we were allowed to exit the bus) and we were met by an ex-political prisoner. He explained in great depth the history of the prison, the conditions of the various cell blocks, the assignment of their clothing and, as well as other hardships they experienced.

Upon boarding the bus again, we were met by another official tour guide. The bus took us to the Lime Quarry where the prisoners worked, and then to an old church, a sports area, and an old school - these were for the local residents of Robben Island who were not imprisoned. We also went to an area near the lighthouse which is 30metres above sea-level and from here one can see the landscape of Cape Town and Table Mountain in the distance. In between the sights, one must not forget to take in the natural beauty of the surroundings that the island has to offer such as the Cape fynbos and the rugged coastline where seals rest. The tour guide gave further explanations of the living conditions on Robben island and answered further questions of its name and escape attempts with adept knowledge. We returned to the harbour and, after waiting for a little while, we boarded the boat for the return journey to Cape Town.

My initial negative thoughts of “tourist trap” have been changed to positive thoughts of a worthy 5 hours spent learning some of the hardships of a prisoner on Robben Island. Should you have a day spare, I would consider booking this tour and also taking in the sights of the Waterfront.




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