People lived on Robben Island many thousands of years ago, when the sea channel between the Island and the Cape mainland was not covered with water. Since the Dutch settled at the Cape in the mid-1600s, Robben Island has been used primarily as a prison.
Since 1997 it has been a museum and a heritage site. The museum is a dynamic institution, which acts as a focal point of South African heritage. It runs educational programmes for schools, youths and adults, facilitates tourism development, conducts ongoing research related to the Island and fulfils an archiving function.
Robben Island has a complex, sensitive eco-system. In terms of South African law, the Island is a protected nature conservation area and, as a World Heritage Site, has to balance additional stringent conservation requirements with the Museum's mission of ensuring public access to the Island's heritage.
The standard tour to Robben Island is 3.5 hours long, including the two half-hour ferry rides. Ferries depart at 9am, 11am, 1pm and 3pm, weather permitting, from the V & A Waterfront in Cape Town.