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Lake Toba is one of the awesome natural wonders of the world. This is a crater lake so enormous it has an island almost the size of Singapore in its centre. At over 1,145 square kilometers, and a depth of 450 meters, Lake Toba is actually more like an ocean. This is the largest lake in Southeast Asia and one of the deepest lakes in the world.
Toba is a place to come and sit back, relax and absorb some beautiful pristine scenery. As you sit and take in the view of the picturesque mountains set against the cool clear lake, you will feel the worries of the world melt away. As the lake sits 900 meters above sea level there is a cooler climate here making a refreshing break from the heat, humidity and pollution of the city.
It’s hard to imagine a more scenic place to come and enjoy hiking, swimming and sailing although once you arrive it might be difficult to resist the anesthetizing effects of the lake. The cool clear water coupled with the relaxed atmosphere and friendly people is what draws visitors from all over the world to Toba.
Venture onto the island of Samosir in the middle of the lake and you will discover mountains steeped in cool mist, clear waterfalls to swim under and locals taking their water buffalo out in the fields.
This is a place to come and enjoy the legendary Batak hospitality. Say cheers and enjoy some traditional palm wine with the locals. Sit and have coffee and chat with islanders keen to practice their English. Where-ever you go, it won't take long to make a new friend.
On the main land, there is accommodation available in the town of Parapat. Parapat occupies a small, rocky peninsula jutting out into the lake. On the way down to Parapat from the hill town of Berastagi you will get some spectacular views as the lake first comes into sight and the road winds its way down the mountain closer to the shoreline. In Parapat live the Batak Toba and Batak Simalungun people who are known as a happy and easygoing people, famous for their lively and sentimental songs. Although the majority have embraced Christianity, ancient beliefs and traditions still persist.
Many visitors prefer to take the more scenic option and stay on the massive island of Samosir in the middle of the lake. The original home of the Batak Toba people, the island has many traces of ancient days including stone tombs and traditional villages, such as at Ambarita which has a courtyard with stone furniture where in the old days convicts were tried and beheaded. Or visit Simanindo where traditional Batak ritual dances and music are performed. Here is where you'll be able to discover unique and ancient Toba culture. At Tomok you can find mementos and Batak handicrafts. Buy the distinctive red and black hand-woven shawls called ulos- that are still used today at important life-cycle occasions-, a Batak calendar on rattan, woodcarvings and more. Samosir is accessible by regular ferries from Parapat. Boats also ply around the island regularly.
And if you wish to better understand Batak culture, visit the Batak Museum at Balige, further south on the mainland shore side.
There are many hotels and smaller accommodations around the lake, especially at Parapat, and at Tuktuk on the island of Samosir.
Despite being a tourist spot for many years, Lake Toba still remains a natural and undisturbed natural beauty. Venture away from the small villages and you will find yourself in the country surrounded by farmland, churches and strange tombs peppering the landscape.
Photo courtesy Richie Sugestian
Relax and watch the video of Lake Toba below.
Watch the video about North Sumatera:
The weather here is cool but pleasant, but if you’re used to hot temperatures remember to bring a jacket.
Change all the money that you will need before you leave Medan as the exchange rate can be poor in the Toba area.
If you are taking the bus between Medan and Parapat make sure you get on an express bus to avoid doubling your travel time.
Feel the wind in your hair and do as the locals do by hiring a motorbike to explore this beautiful part of the world. If you’re on Samosir, take the day to explore by taking a drive on the road running around the edge of the island. Although rough and unpaved in places, this road offers some spectacular views of the lake from the highest points on the island.
If you’re staying in the popular village of Tuk Tuk on Samosir, the best way to get around is to walk, or wander, down the main street at a leisurely pace.
Parapat is 176 km from Medan and can be reached in under 6 hours by public bus. The bus has two routes: Medan-Parapat or via Medan-Berastagi and costs approximately 30,000 rupiahs.
You can buy a spot in a private air conditioned taxi from Medan to Parapat for 65,000 rupiahs one way. The trip takes around 4 hours.
Travel agents in Medan can also organize a rental car plus a chaffeur for you.
Medan is an international gateway. A number of airlines fly daily between the Kualanamu Airport Medan and all major cities in Indonesia and international flights also go from Medan to Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand.
Once you arrive in Parapat, you can catch the ferry to Samosir Island. The ferry goes every hour and a half from 9 – 5pm. The two landing points on Samosir are the traditional village of Tomok, or Tuk Tuk, where the islands hotels and restaurants are concentrated.
If you are coming overland from the south via Bukittinggi and Tarutung there is a public bus available.