Robben Island

Located in South Africa, Robben Island was where many anti-apartheid leaders were imprisoned. It was designated as a World Heritage Site in 1999. Travelers visit this island, which is rich in history. The island sits in South Africa’s Table Bay about 4.5 miles from Cape Town’s beaches. This island is however not a pleasure resort. It has instead served as a place of imprisonment, banishment and isolation for over 400 years.

During ancient times it is said that the actual tip of the now submerged island was connected to the mainland. It is believed that at the close of the last ice age some 12,000 years ago, rising sea levels separated it from the shoreline. The Dutch arrived at the Cape in the 17th century and put the island to use as a prison, a role it maintained up to 1991.

In the 19th century, African chiefs of various tribes were banished to the island. Muslim leaders from the East Indies were also imprisoned there as well as colonial soldiers and civilians. The island was also used to house persons suffering from leprosy and mental illness. Up to 1931, Lepers were confined to a community on the island.

In the late 20th century, the facilities of the island were used as a maximum-security prison for political prisoners of South Africa’s apartheid regime. One of the island’s most famous prisoners was future South African President Nelson Mandela. Today, the island stands as an indelible part of South Africa’s history. It however faces several threats one of which is from an unlikely source: rabbit.

The government has warned that perhaps as much as 25,000 rabbits are running wild on the island after being introduced there. Because of the size of their population, they are destroying the land of vegetation and burrowing so much that they run the risk of damaging some historic structures.

How To Get There
It is best to book well in advance as tickets for trips to the island usually sell out ahead of time. Traveling by boat is the best means of transport to get you to the island.

When to Visit
Although the island closes early in the winter, visitors are welcome to visit all year round.

How to Visit
The Robben Island Museum organizes island tours; many of the guides were former political prisoners who spent time on the island under poor circumstances. However, their presence today serves as a reminder of the rich history.

Photo: Roger de la Harpe, Getty Images