Lake Toba

Lake Toba

Lake Toba (Danau Toba), on the island of Sumatra in Indonesia, is the largest volcanic lake in the world. Samosir island, in the lake, is an island within an island.


Lake Toba is an immense volcanic lake covering an area of 1,707 km2 (1,000 km2 bigger than Singapore) with an island in the center. 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 the catastrophe. 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 Batak tribe who are mostly Christians in the modern days.

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.

Now, Lake Toba is unhealthy for swimming due to excess of fish feeding, mainly for locations near fish floating net cages.


Indonesian, known as Bahasa Indonesia. And there are local people who live in Toba region that called BATAK; they speak with the local language BATAK; just say for the whole greetings HORAS means welcome, good morning, farewell and etc.

Get in

By bus

Most visitors get in via Parapat on the eastern mainland and hop on a ferry to Tuktuk. To avoid the tourist minibus to Berastagi you can also take a bus from Tomok to Pangururang (Rp 12,000 45min) from where you can take another bus to Berastagi (Rp 35,000 3 hrs).

By plane

From Medan International Airport there is one daily flight with propeller airplane Susi Air to the town of Silangit southeast of Lake Toba. Flights are around US$50 one way and take approximately 40 minutes. However the transportation options at Silangit airport are very limited. From there a taxi to Parapat is around 2 hours for 76 kilometers. The other propeller airplane is Wings Air. And starting on March 23, 2016 there is Bombardier CRJ-1000 jet airplane from Garuda Indonesia with route Jakarta-Kualanamu-Silangit.

Most visitors fly to Medan and then travel by land to Parapat, the town by Lake Toba. Parapat is about 4 hours by car from Medan (4–6 hours by public bus). You can get from Medan airport to Lake Toba entirely 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 the main car exit of the airport, cross the road and turn left after the petrol station, and then turn right (about a ten-fifteen min walk altogether). There, you can catch a yellow public bus, number 64, to Amplas Terminal for Rp 3,000. From Amplas terminal, you can get a public bus to Parapat for Rp 22,000.

There are also bus directly to Prapat from airport with ticket fare Rp60,000 per person or use travel from the airport with ticket fare Rp450,000 for 3 persons.

By ferry

Parapat is connected to Tomok and Tuk Tuk on the Samosir Island by boat/ferry that run every hour, the last one at 18:00 (Rp 10,000). The place to catch the ferry to Tuk Tuk is called "Tiga Raja" harbour/jetty. Some ferry's owner are tourist hunter and will overcharge you for Rp 20-30,000 for the same trip to Samosir Island. In my opinion try to observe the ferry with wooden bench inside and light green colored ferry. Those are the ferries that charge Rp 10,000 and the locals take to cross over. Self-proclaimed 'Tourist Hunters' may befriend you on the boat but are harmless and often helpful. 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.

The ferry ride over is fantastic, just truly peaceful, apart from the car radios playing, the ladies selling peanuts, bottled water, mie 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.

There are also two other harbour in Samosir, they are: Nainggolan (1 hour drive from Tomok) connected Muara, the ferry runs every Sunday, Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, and the other located in Simanindo (30 min drive) connected to Tigaras which runs daily until 18:00.

Get around

Local transportation around the lake takes the form of boats (cheaper, school boats with limited schedules and more expensive public boats that operate throughout the day).

Public Boats from Parapat and surrounding areas sail from either Ajibata or Tigaraja to Tuktuk or Tomok at Samosir Island. The fee is Rp 7,000 per trip.

There is also bigger ship which transports Cars and Busses sailing between Tigaraja and Tomok.

Hire a motorcycle for a day or two and get out and about Rp 70,000 per day including full petrol. You can bargain down to Rp 50,000 per day in low season if you hire for several 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 charge for an 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 diabolical 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 cause of the higher elevation, but the sun will be intense by mid-day.

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.

Most of the cottages and guest houses at Tuk Tuk will rent you a very serviceable bicycle for a nominal fee (for locals, it's about Rp 100.000), 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.



Replace 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.


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.


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 momemtum will build into a fun filled night with new friends. There is one discotheque on Fri and Sat nights - expect the 80s music. Better to drink at your guest house generally. There are a number of fine spots around the Tuktuk area to catch a sunset beer. Especially on Saturday night you can hear a chorus of parties going around the Tuktuk area.


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.

Stay safe

The local Batak people are very respectful. Some of the local males may try to turn on the charm too much.

A popular way for tourists to get around Samosir Island is to hire a motorcycle Rp 70,000-80.000, a lower rate may be available if rented for a longer period. 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.

Go next

This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Monday, March 28, 2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.