Lake Toba, also known as Danau Toba, is the largest volcanic lake in the world measuring at 1,707 sq ft. It is formed by a gigantic volcanic eruption some 70,000 years ago and probably the world’s biggest caldera. As a fact, Lake Toba was a product of a massive supervolcanic eruption about 77,000 years ago, being known as the Toba catastrophe theory that is rumoured to have killed many of the human population.
With a quiet and serene beauty, it is famous for travelers as a place to just unwind and while the time away, especially after a hardcore extended backpacking or trekking.
Amidst mountains with clear lake that almost reflect anything, it is definitely a relaxing place. But as a bonus, the Batak people living here is another highlight of the place, being outgoing, they will make sure your stay is well worth it. Just say “Horas” (the tradition Batak greeting) and you will definitely a dose of their hospitality and some of their local jungle juice, pipes and music!
When is the best time to go
Best time to go Lake Toba is May when the weather is changing from slightly cool to warm. The heat might go up really high as it continues to summer but it is also erratic and may have sudden rain. During winter, there is a lot of rainfall here.
The place is also particularly popular during Chinese New Year, generally around January/February of the year, therefore, take note for the hike in prices and cramp in style.
What to see
You may go to Tuktuk, a popular place for the tourists, with a great view of Lake Toba. Here you can do your shopping and buy some books from the second-hand bookshop.
Tomok is a quieter place but with better food options and delicious Indonesian food. You may also bask in its rich culture as there is burial place for the King Sidabutur, which is significant to the local people.
There are traditional dances around, one at Batak Museum and another in Restaurant Bagus Bay.
Just above Tuktuk, you may reach there just by walking and take a nice swim in it.
About 40kms from Tuktuk – the water is really hot, therefore, might not be able to swim in, but you may enjoy a light dip.
What to do
As mentioned it is a place to relax, it is mostly not to do much things. Just kick back and relax, chill by the lakeside. If you must do somethings, swim in the Lake Toba volcanic lake, or take a boat out the lake either in the day or in an overnight party, with Lake Toba volcano as a backdrop. Book lovers can have some reading up here with where there is a second hand bookshop for you to choose from.
What and where to eat
There are no shortage of local Indonesian food here from restaurants at Tuktuk (the main road) varying in both prices and quality respectively. Here to add on to the atmosphere, magic mushrooms and various happy herb pizza can be found as well. Drinks are also no shortage here, with several bars dotted around, but best to just get it from your guesthouse.
Where to stay
There are many hotels, guesthouses and resorts along Lake Toba in Tuktuk, with some further away in smaller towns. You do not need to worry about choices of stay here in exception to Chinese New Year where it might peak with tourists thus hike in price and probably lack in space.
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How to get there
Fly in to Medan and then travel by land to Parapat, a town by Lake Toba. It is 4 hours away from Medan by bus. Or you can take a taxi or scheduled a car from Medan airport to Parapat.
Else you can fly from Medan Polonia airport to Silangit with Susi Air daily, for just 30 minutes and safer than the road trip. But the flight costs would be around 38USD one way.
How to get around
Local public transports is the boat at the lake. Public Boats from Parapat and surrounding areas like Tuktuk or Tomok at Samosir Island is around 7,000 Rp per trip.
You can also hire a motorcycle if you prefer to have some flexibility and control, though roads can be bumpy. Else if only going nearby, a bicycle can be rented as well for a nominal fee.
Where to go nearby
Go for Orangutan Trekking to catch a glimpse of the rare Sumatran Orangutan at Bukit Lawang, just 90km northwest of Medan.
Head off for a dive at beautiful Pulau Weh (Island) just off the coast of Sumatra.
Bring a raincoat or equivalent as rain is prevalent here and can be random. Also bring mosquitoes repellent.
Photo credits from top: Burmesedays, Marc Veraart, Marc Veraart, Holmes Nainggolan, kenner116 and Indo_girl2010