Lake Toba is an immense volcanic lake covering an area of 1,707 km² (1,000 km² bigger than Singapore) with an island in its centre.
Formed by a gigantic volcanic eruption some 70,000 years ago, it is probably the largest resurgent caldera on Earth. Some studies say it might have been associated with causing previous ice age/climate change and the largest human population bottleneck ever. Genetic estimates suggests that there were only a few thousand individuals that survived its catastrophic eruption.
The island in the middle - Pulau Samosir - was joined to the caldera wall by a narrow isthmus, which was cut through to enable boats to pass; a road bridge crosses the cutting. Samosir island is the cultural centre of the Batak tribe who are now mostly Christians.
Lake Toba was perhaps once more popular than it is nowadays, but for many it remains a firm fixture on the Banana Pancake Trail. It is a great laid back place to chill out for a few days after jungle trekking etc. The location is very popular with Chinese tourists around Chinese New Year, when availability drops dramatically and accommodation costs sky rocket.
Indonesian, known as Bahasa Indonesia. There are also local people who live in Toba region called Batak; they speak the local language Batak. Just say for the whole greetings "Horas" means welcome, good morning, farewell, etc. You can say "Mauliate" for thank you and they will reply with the same word.
Most visitors fly to Medan Kuala Namu International Airport and then travel onwards by land to Parapat, the town by Lake Toba. Parapat is about 4 hr by car from Medan or 4-6 hr by public bus. A lot of the information on this page relates to getting to Toba from Kuala Namu International Airport.
As of Sep 2012 here is only one Cirrus/MasterCard ATM on the island (at the white beach entrance) so you should get enough cash at Parapat before crossing the lake to the island. This ATM DOES NOT ACCEPT VISA Cards. So please ensure you take sufficient cash from the many ATMs in Parapat before you come to Samosir.
The road signs are pretty much useless, as is asking the locals for directions. Anyway, if you are going to Tuk Tuk keep going, even though it may seem to be taking forever and you have been in the Kijang for 8 hr with 10 other people, but you will get there and the hosts will be wonderful.
Do not try to drive out of Samosir Island by going up and over the top to the land bridge. The road is very bad.
It is also possible to go to Parapat from Dumai by mini-van, leaving in the afternoon. The trip takes around 11 hr and costs Rp 150,000.
From Medan airport To get to Lake Toba is entirely possible by public transport, if you wish. First, you must go from the airport to Amplas bus terminal. Walk through the car park and go out of the main car exit of the airport. Cross the road and turn left after the petrol station, and then turn right (about a 10-15 min walk altogether). There, you can catch a yellow public bus, number 64, or number 63, to Amplas Terminal for Rp 6,000.
From Amplas terminal You can get a public bus to Parapat for Rp 32,000 (or 70.000 air con, July 2014). Unfortunately in Indonesia people smoke on the bus, even if it is not allowed; that can make a very unpleasant journey on a public pus. So you can get from Medan airport to Parapat for a total of Rp 38,000 (July 2014), and then get a ferry out to Samosir island for Rp 10,000/person. The boat drops you at your hotel.
From Berastagi: please see the Berastagi wikitravel article; this involves 3 transfers to reach Parapat
To Padang / Bukittinggi: see the Parapat article. Book the bus a day ahead to get a seat.
Another great way to get to Lake Toba is by train. Two trains leave each day in that direction and you want to get off either at Pematang Siantar or Tebing Tinggi.
If you want to get to the train directly from Medan airport, get a taxi or becak, and tell them or write Lapangan Merdeka and Setasiun Kereta Api Medan. By taxi, it's about an hour and a half ride to the train station (approx. 150,000Rp.). From the station there's only one train leaving Medan to Permatang Siantar (or Siantar) at 13:30. The fare is Rp 40,000 per person (as per 16 March 14) and the journey takes approximately 4 hr. Trains stop at almost each station. Then take a Becak or walk to the bus/taxi hub to travel to Perapat. The train is a wonderful way to travel if you like to learn more culture on their daily living and lifestyle. Once you are in your seat and have a stream of buskers, food vendors and friendly local passing by you will know why this is often the best way to travel overland. From Siantar (1 hr by taxi) or Tebing Tinggi (2 hr taxi) you will need to hire a taxi or a bus for road transport to Parapat. Train back to Medan from Siantar departs at 11:54.
Parapat is connected to Tomok and Tuk Tuk on the Samosir Island by a ferry that runs every hour for Rp 15,000 (motorbikes Rp10,000 extra, as of March 2015), running on the half-hour except the last one at 19:00. The place to catch the ferry to Tuk Tuk is called "Tiga Raja" harbour/jetty. The ferry man will drop you at the place you're staying at in Tuk Tuk. Try to use the ferry with a wooden bench inside and that's coloured light green. Those are the ferries that charge Rp 10,000 and that the locals take to cross over. Tuk Tuk is the main town to stay on Samosir. Use the boat service not the large ferry, they will drop you directly at your Tuk Tuk resort.
There is no point to go to Tomok as there is no accommodation there. There are tens of guesthouses in Tuk-Tuk.
Return trips leave from various places in Tuk Tuk on the hour, but sometimes 15 minutes earlier/later. Wave down the ferry to ensure it comes to your dock.
There is also a car/passenger ferry at Ajibata, a very short distance south from Tiga Raja.
The ferry ride over is fantastic, just truly peaceful, apart from the car radios playing, the ladies selling peanuts, bottled water, noodles or pretty much anything else. Normally some of the passengers and vendors will be able to speak English. Landing at the other end of the 1 hour ferry journey is daunting, but again, behave like everyone else in Indonesia and just push, ever so politely, but firmly and eventually you will get off the ferry and onto the main road. Alternatively use the boat service but watch out for the guys that ask for the fee before you embark — they do not work for the operators, you pay on the boat.
From Medan Polonia airport you can fly directly to Silangit with Susi Air daily. Flights take approximately 30 min and are a safer way than the road trip. In Feb 2013, the flight cost Rp 425,000, (c. US$42) one way. Transportation options from Silangit airport are limited; it is a good idea to pre-arrange a driver to be waiting; From Silangit Airport to Parapat is 2 hr drive. To Silangit airport from Parapat there are many transport providers available around the ferry terminal area. Costs to/from Silangit and Parapat should cost around Rp 300,000 each way per vehicle. However, the airport is very close to guesthouses at Balige and Muara, towns that hug the southern rim of the lake and would save considerable travel time for those destinations.
It may be obvious but just remember there are no taxis around Tuk Tuk. Sure you can walk the small part of the island in an hour or so but if you are heading out for the night, plan ahead on how you will get back home. The locals are very friendly people who will go out of their way to help. However, some corners of the island are very quiet at night and you may find yourself on a long long walk.
A popular way for tourists to get around Samosir Island is to hire a motorcycle. Care should be taken if choosing this option as the roads around the island are in poor condition and medical services very limited if you have an accident requiring medical treatment.
Hire a motorcycle for a day or two for Rp 100,000+ per day including full petrol. You can bargain down to (as of of July 2015] in low season if you hire for 5 -7 days. Most of the motorcycles available for rent are the owner's own transportation, so you may need to return it to them before sunset (depends on owner) or you may be charged extra fees. Take a map. There are no police checking licenses and there is not much traffic - just watch out for the big trucks, buses and terrible bridges. Honking around is a norm to indicate that there's incoming car from the opposite or there's a car bypassing you from the back (in driver's point of view). A good journey to take on a motorcycle would be to travel North from Tuk Tuk around to the western shore, stopping at the tourist sites along the way such as the many and varied traditional houses and villages. The roads are very bad in the centre of the island (bumpy and washed out) and it takes half a day to cross this way (verse 1-2 hours by coast road which is more scenic anyway). You can expect to ride at least up to 100 km in the day. If you're going around the island with motorcycle or bicycle, be sure to put on some sunblock as when you venture out in the morning things can be deceiving due to the cooler temperatures in the morning because of the higher elevation, but the sun will be intense by mid-day.
Most of the cottages and guest houses at Tuk Tuk will rent you a very serviceable bicycle for a nominal fee, this is a very much preferred way to get around, but be very careful for the cars as nobody looks and there does not seem to be any right side of the road, even when its the left side.
There are hot springs on the western side of the island just across the causeway from Pangururan. The water is hot. Locals usually use their hands to get some water out of the pool, standing in the pool is possible, but you probably won't be able to swim.
The fee to enter to the surroundings is Rp 2,000. The pools are free, there's some special foreigner pool for Rp 10,000.
In the town of Balige on the south side of the lake there is a mausoleum to Raja Sisimangaraja XII and a large museum to Batak culture at the TB Silahali Center.
Samosir - Many Big Statues as Cemeteries for Batak people ancestors
Samosir, Simanindo - Batak Museum with traditional dance performed twice daily
Samosir, Ambarita - Stone chairs used for judgement and executions
Samosir, Tomok - Good place for locals and foreigner to shop for souvenirs. vegetable and fruits. There's a tomb for you to visit as well.
Just on the other side of Samosir, near Pangururan are hot springs
From Tuk tuk you can see a waterfall up the mountain behind you. It's a great walk with a rewarding fresh swim.
Tele - ascend an old tower to get an awesome view over the lake; ask in Pangururan, about 20km from there, up the mountain road
Sipisopiso waterfall. Beautiful 100m falls, a mini-Angel falls, feeding into the northern end of Danau Toba. Devote a full 7 hours to reach and return. Motorbike to Simanindo on the NE corner of Samosir 20min from Tuktuk; take ferry to Tigaras. Then motor north with beautiful lake views to Merek, and ask for the turnoff to the waterfalls (signage only exists coming from northern direction). Return on same ferry, or via Parapat (further, but nicer road, so same time)
Kick back and relax after the frenetic atmosphere of Indonesia. Swim in the volcanically warmed waters of the lake or arrange an overnight 'party' boat out on the lake if you can get enough volunteers together. A beautiful place to do nothing at all. Plenty of second hand book shops to stock up on reading material. Traditional Batak Dance in Restaurant Bagus Bay every Wednesday and Saturday from 20:15 onwards. After the dance, sit back and enjoy the folk songs done by a group of men.
Kain Harum, in Tomok, many merchants sells weaved clothes, such as sarung, scarf like cloth and many traditional Bataknese handicrafts. One notable item not to be found anywhere else (even in Medan city or Prapat city) is the so called fragrant cloth. The item is made of sandalwood fibre woven into cloth. The sellers claim that the sandalwood odor will not be diminished even after washing or laundry (this has yet to be confirmed). Reasonable price is about Rp40,000 to Rp50,000/pcs.
The main road around Tuktuk is lined with small restaurants of varying quality. Also on offer is magic mushroom and various "happy herb" pizzas if you want that.
Cotney Restaurant, (by the Samosir resort). Rendangs, curries. Internet is available at a reasonable local price.edit
Jenny's Restaurant, (There is only one or two roads so simply ask for Jenny's.). Restaurant with view of Lake Toba. Curries, fresh lake-fish, steamed or grilled, western food such as schnitzel (breaded pork or chicken chop pan fried). Desserts include fresh papaya that grows in the back-yard or a golden-brown banana pancake with chocolate sauce and a sprinkle of coconut. Once all the guests in the small place with only about 5 tables are fed and happy, Rinto will take the guitar from the wall and entertain his patronsedit
Joe's, (about 2 km from Tuk Tuk towards Ambarita). A family restaurant with a kind, friendly owner. Chicken à la batak Rp 25,000, banana chocolate cake Rp 80,000 (for a whole cake). Also has fresh vanilla for sale (Rp 70,000 for 100 grams) and motorbike rental.edit
Marco Polo, Close to the northern tip of Tuk Tuk (Walk north past most restaurants, about 15 min from Carolina). Views and reasonably priced food. Make sure to try the avocado sandwich for Rp 10,000, the avocado tree can be seen from the balcony. The owners are extremely nice and helpful but don't seem to get many customers as they are past the main tourist area.edit
Maruba Restaurant, Tuk-tuk (In between Ambaroba Hotel and Rodeo Accommodation). Traditional Batak and Indonesian food and a variety of Western meals such as schnitzels, real homemade burgers, pasta and roast chicken with fresh herb stuffing. Brown bread, burger buns and baguettes baked most days. English breakfast with smoked bacon is delicious. You can order a Batak feast one day (or less)in advance. Some choices are boneless fish curry, ikan na neura (very fresh raw fish marinated with candlenuts, spices & lime juice), napi nadir (a Batak style curry made with grilled chicken), saksang (chopped pork cooked with Batak spices and fresh pig's blood (blood is optional). Also available to order..delicious Lake Toba freshwater lobster (crayfish) at a very reasonable price.edit
Orari Restaurant, Tuk-Tuk (Next to Anju), ☎ +62 625 451093. Restaurant with traditional Batak, Indonesian and European cuisine. Spaghetti bolognese, nasi goreng 'special', beef rendang, BBQ fish. Restaurant has a view of the lake. Motorbike rentals also available for Rp 1,000 .edit
Popys Restaurant, Tuk-Tuk Siadong (Between Orari Restaurant and Hariara Guesthouse), ☎ +62 821 1651 88 223. Named after owner's daughter, the restaurant offers nice view, delicious Indonesian and western food, and fresh fish caught directly from the lake (Rp 30.000). You can also rent or trade books if you wish.edit
Tabo Cottages, Tuk-tuk, ☎ +62 625 451318 (http://email@example.com), . Free wifi, western-styled food served, the extensive menu is possibly pricier than other options. They have baked goods and European quality natural yoghurt. Fish is caught directly from the lake.from 215.000. edit
Today's cafe, Tuk-tuk (2mins walk from Samosir Villa), . The owner of this small cafe, juliet is the friendliest host in the island! Pay her a visit and you will visit again for sure! Mains from Rp 20,000-35,000 Wi-Fi available for Rp 10,000 per hour. Comment 16Dec2013: Today internet has stopped working due to roadworks round Tuk-Tuk. Rumour is that wifi at hotels and restaurants will start working early next year (2014Jan). Please note that internet through mobile networks still works fine.edit
Shrugary, Tuk-tuk (near Roy's pub). Western and Indonesian cuisine, family owned and maintained. Friendly staff and tasty food. Open minimum to 01:00, but if you are there having fun, they will not kick you out. They are making their own yoghurt. Serving breakfast, lunch, dinner.edit
There is one discotheque on Fri and Sat nights - expect the latest 80s music. Better to drink at your guest house generally.
Saturday night is often the highlight on the local calendar. You can hear a chorus of parties going around the Tuk Tuk area.
Samosir Cottages will provide a wonderful local Batak performance that is a mixture of traditional dances and fantastic drinking songs.
There are a number of fine spots around the Tuk Tuk area to catch a sunset beer.
Reggae Bar is perched high up looking over the lake.
Hibiscus Bar on main street is hosted by two wonderful local girls and plays cool tunes with a little encouragement.
This area is in a depressed tourist state but is actual a wonderful gem that should be on the world stage. So while some places may look like not much is going on- just go in - and the momentum will build into a fun filled night with new friends.
Roy's Pub, Tuk-Tuk (At the northern end of Tuk-Tuk peninsula.). Midday until 1am.. Roy's is the local live music venue. On Tues, Thurs, and Sat Roy's son and his band play the western-orientated classics (think Eagles/GnR etc) beloved by Batak guitarists. It seems to draw pretty much all the post-23:00 crowd any day of the week, though Saturday is the main night. edit
There are numerous hotels and guest houses, mainly in Tuk Tuk but with a few scattered in other small towns around the island. During Chinese New Year (end of Jan/early Feb), many Indonesians come for vacation and will pay generously for their rooms (about triple the rate). To accommodate these guests, some guest house owners may ask their existing guests to vacate their rooms, but only giving them very short notice. Therefore, when arriving before Chinese New Year, check with the guest house owner to ensure your stay will not be interrupted.
Bagus Bay, Bagus Bay, ☎ +62 625 451287, . Next to the lake. A dark wood and bamboo bar/restaurant gives the place a relaxed feel. The rooms are basic. They have a restaurant and internet computers. Free secure Wi-Fi.Rp 130,000-175,000. edit
Barbara`s Guesthouse, Ambarita, ☎ +62 625 700 0230 (firstname.lastname@example.org), . Small quite relaxing place a few km from Tuk Tuk with lovely scenery and good swimming. Rooms are clean and located in several houses. Western and Indonesian style food is served in the restaurant or on the terrace. Tourist information and good tips about Sumatra.From Rp 70,000. edit
Hotel Carolina, Tuk-tuk, ☎ +62 625 451210 (email@example.com), . 49 rooms set in a beautiful tropical garden. It has a restaurant with a verandah overlooking the lake. Staff are very helpful. Small Batak style cottages up the hill have cold water only. Luxury rooms on the lake shore come with hot water, a bath tub and a fridge. They have a lake area for swimming with a diving board and pontoon to relax. The hotel can organise travel, trips and motorbike rental. Computer room and free Wi-Fi in the restaurant area, though the speed can be very slow.Rp 55,000-150,000+10%. edit
Ebikel's Homestay, (just next to Hotel Carolina). Homestay with a decent room and affordable price. The owner Ebikel is a helpful and willing guide to Samosir Island.edit
Christina Guesthouse, Tuk-tuk, ☎ +62 81263401142, . A small relaxing place with lovely scenery and good swimming. Rooms are clean and located in several traditional Batak-houses). Hot and cold water. Western and Indonesian style food is served in the restaurant. General tourist information and good tips about Sumatra.From Rp 70,000. edit
Liberta Homestay, Sosor Galung, ☎ +62 625 451035. checkout: checkout. It has quiet private cabins on the lake or rooms with hot shower in lovely traditional Batak houses. Relaxing laid back atmosphere. Friendly owner Mr Moon will sing, cook, and go out of his way for you. He also provides a herbal blend against diarrhoea. Rp 40,000 to 90,000. edit
Mas Cottages, (about 2 km from Tuk Tuk towards Ambarita). Closer to the ancient ceremonial stone chairs than downtown Tuk-Tuk. Variety of accommodation options all directly on the lake including suites and traditional Batak houses. Prices are reasonable for this secluded location. A gal named Lita (+62 818 6027 2673) in the ferry area, (car drop off) will meet you and arrange for your rooms with a better price than booking on-line. Rooms with hot water, but sometimes the hot water is unreliable. Good breakfast and dinners, excellent swimming (plus a rope swing), and friendly staff. Being slightly out of Tuk-Tuk, the restaurant also tends to generate a very open, communal atmosphere with traditional Batak guitars and singing. Motorbike rentals are avaialable at a fair price.. varies. edit
Romlan, ☎ +62 625 451386 (firstname.lastname@example.org), . Small guesthouse with 12 rooms including 2 batak cottages in both a single and a 2 storey building. The rooms are clean and comfortable with attached bathroom. All rooms have a direct lake view. Good for swimming and relaxing. Local and indonesian food including some German meals. Free Wifi. Private boat dock.Cottages Rp 40,000, rooms Rp 100,000. edit
Samosir Cottages, Tuk-tuk, ☎ +62 625 451170 (email@example.com), . Good for those who arrive late in Parapat, there is usually a representative to take them to the cottages. The waterfront is clean, and the large restaurant food and drinks. Batak music provided every Wed and Sat night. If you walk outside the hotel you can use a local cafe which may offer some more variety and cheaper prices. They also own Samorsir Villa Resort 5 min drive away. It and its sister resort has new rooms, free Wi-Fi, a pool table, diving boards and a restaurant providing food and drinks.From Rp 100,000. edit
Tabo Cottages, Tuk-tuk, ☎ +62 625 451 318 (firstname.lastname@example.org), . Rooms are clean and quite modern by Sumatran standards. Free Wi_Fi. Western-style food served in the restaurant is good. German bakery makes brown bread and pastries. Great breakfast buffet at 77,000. Tabo Cottages also roast their own Lake Toba-grown coffee on-site for sale and served in their own cafe. (Blends, peaberry, Arabica). Swimming pool. From Rp 120,000. edit
Tony's Guest House, (ask any local). Nice people and nice double room. Vegetable taco for Rp 21,000.From Rp 25,000. edit
Sibayak Guest House, Tuktuk Siadong - Samosir Island - North Sumatra - 22395 - Indonesia, ☎ +62 625 451161, . Very quiet Guest House located directly on the lake, access the lake directly from your room. With good long stay pricing and a friendly atmosphere. Free Wi-Fi.From Rp 35,000-60,000. edit
Aman guesthouse, Tuk tuk (Next to Tony's). Family-run traditional Batak houses with hot water shower (2 rooms available) right by the lake. The son, Imbet, will try to sell and overprice everything. Just don't let him rip you off! and it'll be alright. Many cleaner and more honest options nearby on the same road. Rp 40,000-50,000 per room.edit
Parnas Homestay and Bar, Tuktuk Siadong - Samosir Island, Parapat 22395, Indonesien, ☎ +62 625 451167. A very chilled out place on the left wing of the peninsula Tuktuk. 4 very spacious and beautifully furnished rooms with bathroom, direct access to the lake and stunning views. There's a huge Bar and restaurant with a communal room. Free Pool Billiard, Table Tennis, Darts. Live Musik, Scooter Rental, BBQ, Laundry. Rooms between Rp 80,000 in low Season and Rp 150,000 in high season (note: confirm the agreed room price in writing! as it may change when you get the bill)(e,)edit
Haraira, (Close to Jennys Restaurant). Large very clean rooms with hot water shower. Well maintained garden in front of the rooms towards the Lake. Really nice view, good swimming. Rp 80,000-100,000. edit
Samosir Villas Resort, Tuk Tuk, ☎ +62 625 451399, . New villa resort on Samosir island. Rooms with tv, free wifi, hot bath. Swimming pool, gym, ping pong table etc. Breakfast included. Prices from Rp 350,000edit Visa/MasterCard accepted
Saulina Resort, Aek Rangat, ☎ +62 626 20810 (email@example.com). Villa restaurant meeting room on Samosir island. Rooms with TV, free Wi-Fi at restaurant, hot bath. Breakfast included. Mandiri acceptedfrom Rp 250,000. edit
Bukittinggi - ALS bus leaves Parapat at 5pm. The journey takes 15 hours and costs 240000 IRD (May 2015). The road is very hilly, expect to get very little sleep. The transfer to bus station from pier costs 20000 IRD. The ticket can be bought from booking office near pier.
This is a usable article. It has information for getting in as well as some complete entries for restaurants and hotels. An adventurous person could use this article, but please plunge forward and help it grow!