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Robben Island

Former South African President and anti-apartheid campaigner Nelson Mandela spent eighteen years in the prison at Robben Island on charges of sabotage and conspiracy to overthrow the government. Whilst now inextricably linked with the story of the struggle for democracy in South Africa, a tour of Robben Island - now a museum - gives visitors a fascinating and moving insight into the island's three hundred year history.

Robben Island, situated in Cape Town's Table Bay, was first used as a place of incarceration by Dutch Settlers at the end of the seventeenth century. 'Robben' is the Dutch word for 'seal'; a reference to the many Fur seal colonies that inhabit the bay. Whilst the island has always served the purpose of a prison, especially for political prisoners, it has also at various times been used as a quarantine station, a hospital for leprosy sufferers, an asylum for the insane and, during the Second World War, a coastal defence and training station occupied by the army and the navy.

Robben Island's duty as a prison ended in 1996, and the following year it was declared a National Monument. In 1999 the island was granted UNESCO World Heritage site status. Today Robben Island is both a living museum dedicated to the promotion of equality and human rights, and a poignant testimony to those who fought for democracy.

3 results matching: Escorted Rail Tours to Robben Island

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The Splendours of Southern Africa
New Year Savings
2023Sep
2024FebMarAprSep
16 days from
£5,740 pp £5,440 pp
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New Year Savings
16 days from
£5,740
£5,440
per person
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tour map
  • DestinationBotswana, South Africa, Zambia
  • Starts / EndsLondon Heathrow
  • AccommodationRail, Hotel
  • TransportFlight, Rail, Coach
Map and accommodation
South African Adventure
New Year Savings
4.4 stars(8 reviews)
2023Oct
2024AprOct
17 days from
£9,690 pp £9,490 pp
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New Year Savings
17 days from
£9,690
£9,490
per person
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tour map
  • DestinationSouth Africa
  • Starts / EndsLondon Heathrow
  • AccommodationRail, Hotel
  • TransportFlight, Rail, Coach
Map and accommodation
22 days from
£15,995
per person
View Details
tour map
  • DestinationBotswana, South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia
  • Starts / EndsLondon Heathrow
  • AccommodationRail, Hotel
  • TransportFlight, Rail
Map and accommodation
Our customers love our Robben Island tours
Grand Tour of South Africa
16 Nov 2022
Mrs M Templeton
4 stars
“We travelled with Rovos Rail. The train was superb but the travelling was severely curtailed by the state of the South African Railway system which is non existent but the tour manager Bob Whitworth could not have done more to make our holiday so enjoyable under somewhat trying circumstances at times
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Leper Church and Graveyard

Between 1846 and 1931 Robben Island was used to hospitalise patients with the wasting disease leprosy. The island was chosen both for its isolation since leprosy is contagious, and in the belief that island life would be 'healthy' for the patients.

Limestone Quarry

Limestone for use as a building material and in whitewash was quarried on Robben Island by prisoners using only picks and shovels in the oppressive glare and heat of the South African sun.

Robben Island Lighthouse

Despite the establishment of the first rudimentary 'lighthouse' - a maintained fire lit on the island's highest point - back in 1657, shipwrecks were a fairly common occurrence in Table Bay. Robben Island's permanent lighthouse was built on Minto Hill in 1865 and stands eighteen metres high. A fog horn was added in 1925, and in 1938 the lighthouse was equipped with its own self-contained electricity generator.

World War II Gun Emplacements

Robben Island played a strategic role in the defence of Cape Town in the Second World War and was equipped with gun emplacements for batteries of six-inch and nine-inch artillery.

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