Guide to Lake Toba, Sumatra – Hotels, To do and Attractions

Lake Toba, also known as Danau Toba, is one of the most popular tourist attraction in Sumatra. Tourism in Lake Toba is fairly developed, but it still holds its own quiet charm.

It 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 is probably the world’s biggest caldera. As a fact, this lake was a product of a massive supervolcanic eruption about 77,000 years ago, is known as the Toba catastrophe theory that is rumoured to have killed many of the human population.

With a quiet and serene beauty, most people make a trip here just to unwind and while the time away, especially after a hardcore extended backpacking or trekking.

-> Find out Lake Toba Accomodations

Where is it

This largest volcanic lake is located in Sumatra, Indonesia. Samosir island (Pulau Samosir) within the lake is the island inside of the island of Sumatra.

Indonesia Sumatra Map

Indonesia Sumatra Map. Photo by Burmesedays

Why go

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!

Batak People @ Lake Toba, Sumatra, Indonesia

Batak Women. Photo by Marc Veraart

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

Batak Kids @ Lake Toba, Sumatra, Indonesia

Kids by the Lake. Photo by Marc Veraart

There are considered a lot of tourist attractions here for you as it is a fairly popular tourist place. If you care keen, you may easily find a tour, including to Pulau Samosir, an island in this lake itself.
Tuk tuk
You may go to Tuk tuk, 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
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.

Traditional Dance
There are traditional dances around, one at Batak Museum and another in Restaurant Bagus Bay.

Waterfall
Just above Tuk tuk, you may reach there just by walking and take a nice swim in it.

Hot Spring
About 40kms from Tuk tuk – the water is really hot, therefore, might not be able to swim in, but you may enjoy a light dip.

Things to do and Attractions

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 volcanic lake, or take a boat out the lake either in the day or in an overnight party, with the 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.

For some active things to do, you can go for kayaking on the Lake Toba. You may also just take a boat ride on the lake. Or take a bath in the hot springs. Not to forget, enjoy the many delicious foods at nearby villages at Tomok. Another tip is to rent a motorbike and tour around the Samosir island yourself.

But if you want to visit some attractions around Lake Toba, you can visit:
Museum Huta Bolon Simanindo, which has performances twice daily
Makam Raja Sidabutar – graves of the former Batak Kings
Stone chairs in Ambarita – dated back to 300 years ago and serve as a judgement seat
Hike Pusuk Buhit – the main mountain in Lake Toba area, it would take 5 hours to the summit
Shop for textiles – get your souvenir at Suhi-Suhi village

Lake Toba, Sumatra, Indonesia

Lake Toba, Sumatra, Indonesia. Photo by Holmes Nainggolan

Where to stay

There are many hotels, guesthouses and resorts along the lake in Tuk tuk, with some further away in smaller towns. You do not need to worry about choices of stay in Lake Toba *, in exception to Chinese New Year where it might peak with tourists thus hike in price and probably lack in space. The best rated hotels here are Horas Family Home * and Toba Village Inn *. While the best budget option in here is the Toba Cats Garden *.



Booking.com


Paddy Fields Lake Toba @ Sumatra, Indonesia

Paddy Fields. Photo by kenner116

What and where to eat

There are no shortage of local Indonesian food here from restaurants at Tuk tuk (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.

How to get there

Fly in to Medan and then travel by land to Parapat, a town next to Lake Toba. It is 4 hours trip 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 Tuk tuk 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.

Tips

Bring a raincoat or equivalent as rain is prevalent here and can be random. Also bring mosquitoes repellent.

Fishing boat Lake Toba @ Sumatra, Indonesia

Fishing Boat. Photo by Indo_girl2010

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Sumatra Travel Guide

North Sumatra 7 Days / 1 Week Itinerary – Medan, Berastagi, Lake Toba

Planning an itinerary for Sumatra can be tough as it is not as firmly on the tourist trail compared to many other places in Indonesia, for example, Bali or Java and so it can be difficult to know what to do there and where to go. Planning the itinerary for Sumatra is also no easy feat but don’t worry as our itinerary will fit in some of the must visit places in Sumatra, fitting them all in one week.

In this itinerary, you will find yourself covering the 3 main tourist locations of Sumatra that are interlinked to your convenience. They are Medan, the main city and where you most likely fly into, Berastagi, the Karo highlands of rice fields and the famous Lake Toba, the largest volcano lake in the world with arguably the best tourist facilities in Sumatra.

Here is a suggested itinerary that you can tailor according to your own preferences for your 7 days in Sumatra.

Medan

Suggested time: 2 days
Connects to Berastagi (2 hours) or Lake Toba (5 hours)

Medan is not typically thought of as a tourist destination by international travelers who used it simply as an entry and exit point to move on to other places. The domestic market in Indonesia, however, sees things very differently and Medan is known as the culinary capital of Indonesia.

Tjong A Fie Mansion in Medan, Sumatra, Indonesia

Tjong A Fie Mansion in Medan, Sumatra. Photo by Pratyeka, via Wikimedia Commons

Day 1 – Medan sightseeing and food

Tjong A Fie Mansion was a relative of the better known Cheong Fatt Tze who lived in Penang and built the gorgeous Cheong Fatt Tze mansion. This is one of Medan’s few real attractions and is definitely worth a trip to see how people would have lived in 1900. It’s also near to Kesawan Square, a great option if you are looking for some authentic Medanese food.

Addres: 105 Jl. Jend. A. Yani,
Kesawan, Medan Bar, Kota Medan,
Sumatera Utara 20111;
Telephone: 0813 6120 3998.
Opening hours: 9 am to 5 pm.

Soto Medan, Sumatra, Indonesia

Soto Medan. Photo by Fachriazmi9, via Wikimedia Commons

Soto Kesawan is located just across from Tjong A Fie Mansion so it makes sense to combine the two. You will need to get here before 4 pm however as they shut up shop after that. This small cafe is famous for its Soto, a soup made with coconut milk and filled with juicy prawns.

Address: Jl. Ahmad Yani, Kesawan, Medan Bar,
Kota Medan, Sumatera Utara
Telephone: 20236; 061 4514518
Opening hours: 7 am to 4 pm.

Day 2 – Medan Mosques and Palaces

Mesjid Raya Al Mashun is the great mosque of Medan and is known for its great beauty and imported building materials. You will see glittering green tiles here as well as graceful black domes and pretty stained glass and marble floors. Make sure to dress modestly if you are going to visit.

Address: Jl. Sisingamangaraja, No. 1, Medan Kota,
Kota Medan, Sumatera Utara
Telephone: 20212; 061 4512555.

The great grand mosque of Medan, Sumatra, Indonesia

The great grand mosque of Medan. Photo by Rolling Okie

Istana Maimun is the royal palace that used to belong to the Sultanate of Deli. Now it has been turned into a museum and you can also catch a traditional band here that play local tunes every day at 10 am.

Address: Jl. Sultan Ma’moen Al Rasyid No. 66, Medan Maimun,
A U R, Medan Maimun, Kota Medan, Sumatera Utara 20151.
Opening hours: 8 am to 5 pm.

Istana Maimun (Palace), Medan Sumatra, Indonesia

Istana Maimun (Palace), Medan. Photo by I, Merbabu via Wikimedia Commons

Merdeka Walk – If you are looking for dinner in Medan but can’t decide what to get then consider a trip to Merdeka Walk. Here you will find a long strip that has a range of stalls selling all kinds of dishes from noodles, to rice, to soups, to desserts.

Address: Jl. Balai Kota, Medan Barat, Kesawan,
Medan Bar, Kota Medan, Sumatera Utara 20236.
Opening hours: Some places here are open 24 hours a day.

Moving on from Medan, you have two options:

How to get to Berastagi – Take a bus from the main bus station on Jalan SM Raja that will take you directly to Berastagi. The trip takes about 2 hours.

If you want to skip Berastagi then you can also take a bus directly to Lake Toba from Medan which takes around 5/6 hours.

Berastagi

Suggested time: 2 days
Connects to Medan (2 hours) or Lake Toba (4/5 hours)

From Medan, you can easily move on to Berastagi, home of the Karo people with just a 2 hours bus ride. One of the highlights of Berastagi is picking your own fruit like oranges and strawberries at one of the local farms, although you need to be there when the fruit is ripening so it’s best to check when you are actually in Berastagi.

Gunung Sibayak (mountain) at Berastagi, Sumatra, Indonesia

Gunung Sibayak (mountain) at Berastagi, Sumatra. Photo by swifant

Day 3 – Berastagi volcano mountain

Gunung Sibayak is a dormant volcano has a large crater at the top from which gas still erupts. There are also hot springs here where you can soak in the naturally warm thermal waters. It is about a 7 kilometer walk to the top.

Day 4 – Berastagi waterfall

Sipiso-piso Waterfall – This is one of the best spots in Berastagi and you can see all the way to Lake Toba from here. You can catch a mini bus called an angkot straight from Berastagi to the waterfall or hire a motorbike and head out there on your own.

Gunung Sipiso-piso Waterfall at Berastagi, Sumatra, Indonesia

Sipiso-piso Waterfall at Berastagi. Photo by Ronald Tagra

Moving on from Berastagi, we head on to Lake Toba.

How to get to Lake Toba – You will need to take a mini-bus to Siantar which takes about 3 hours and then another bus to Parapat which takes about 1 hour. It’s then a short ferry ride across to Tuk Tuk, the main island in Lake Toba.

Lake Toba

Suggested time: 2 days
Connects to Berastagi (4/5 hours) or Medan (5/6 hours)

Lake Toba is a gem in the region of Sumatra and has a crater lake that sits in a dormant volcano. It’s also the largest crater lake in the world and sits next to the charming island of Tuk Tuk.

Lake Toba, Sumatra, Indonesia

Lake Toba, Sumatra, Indonesia. Photo by Holmes Nainggolan

Day 5 – Enjoy Lake Toba and Tuk tuk village

Enjoy the lake – One of the reasons people come to Lake Toba is the lake, so make sure that you enjoy all that it has to offer. You can indulge in a range of water sports here and can tour the lake in a speedboat. For something a little more relaxing you can simply float here in a rubber tube.

Visit Tuk Tuk – The village of Tuk Tuk is charming and is also the home of a Batak cemetery. Here you will find amazing carved graves Batak kings which are in the shape of traditional Batak houses, so make sure to give this a miss to get an insight into Batak culture.

Batak People @ Lake Toba, Sumatra, Indonesia

Batak Women. Photo by Marc Veraart

Day 6 – Explore Lake Toba island

Tuk Tuk is covered in a range of attractions and due to its size, you can see most of them in a day. The best option is to hire a car and driver or a motorbike to whizz around the island.

Day 7 – Back to Medan

Getting back to Medan, completing the loop of Medan, Berastagi and Lake Toba in Sumatra. Here you can choose to head onwards north to Bukit Lawang for the Orangutan trek or the interesting city Banda Aceh or go for diving at Pulau Weh.

Check out our Sumatra Travel Guide.

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2 weeks or 15 days Itinerary in Sumatra

Planning to take a trip to Sumatra for about 2 weeks (15 days)? Don’t worry as we are here to help you sort it out. As Sumatra is not a well-trodden tourist trail in Indonesia, in opposed to Java or Bali, it may be a little difficult to plan out your days here.

In this itinerary you will cover some of the top 10 must-visit places in Sumatra in the northern part of Sumatra. The attractions are such as the buzzing city of Medan, the Karo highlands of rice fields at Berastagi, the largest volcanic lake in the world Lake Toba, the conservation area with treks to seek out the Sumatra Orang-Utan at Bukit Lawang, the less congested Sumatran city Banda Aceh and diving off the volcanic island Pulau Weh.

The plan is to fly into Medan and then leave flying out of Banda Aceh to save on the land travel in Sumatra, which may take a while due to road conditions.

Sumatra Travel Map

Sumatra Travel Map

Sumatra Travel Map

Week 1 Itinerary

First fly into Medan, one of the major city in Sumatra and known to the locals as a culinary hub. You will spend your first week here and its surrounding.

Day 1 and 2 – Medan

May not be the favourite of many tourists but Medan does hold some charm with its colonial Tjong A Fie Mansion, grand Mosque and old palace. It also packs a punch in the food department, like its famous Soto Kesawan.

Tjong A Fie Mansion in Medan, Sumatra, Indonesia

Tjong A Fie Mansion in Medan, Sumatra. Photo by Pratyeka, via Wikimedia Commons

Day 3 and 4 – Berastagi

Heading here with 2 hours ride up to the Karo highlands, you will find yourself relaxing to the cooling atmosphere. There is the Gunung Sibayak mountain to hike and the Sipiso-sipiso waterfall to marvel at.

Gunung Sipiso-piso Waterfall at Berastagi, Sumatra, Indonesia

Sipiso-piso Waterfall at Berastagi. Photo by Ronald Tagra

Day 5 and 6 – Lake Toba

This famous lake of Sumatra beckons us to come and just sit down and idle our time away. It is the largest volcanic lake in the world and a wonder to reckon with. Besides chilling by the lake, the Tuk-tuk village is also worth to check out for its rich Batak culture.

Lake Toba, Sumatra, Indonesia

Lake Toba, Sumatra, Indonesia. Photo by Holmes Nainggolan

For a detailed itinerary on this first week, check out our 1 week / 7 days in Sumatra itinerary.

Week 2 Itinerary

On the second week, we proceed onwards to the north of Sumatra.

Day 7 and 8 – Bukit Lawang

Head on to Bukit Lawang from Medan, you may hire a car or taxi to get here for the quickest option or there are several buses plying this route. The ride will take about 3 hours. Many come here specifically for Orangutan trekking, which is quite an experience itself.

Mother and Baby Orangutan @ Bukit Lawang

Mother and Baby Orangutan. Photo by Arian Zweger

Day 9 and 10 – Banda Aceh

Buses also run from Bukit Lawang to Banda Aceh, so head onwards here to northern Sumatra trip. At this fairly less chaotic city of Sumatra in comparison to Medan, one can find many things to do in Banda Aceh, such as the beautiful mosque, historical sites, musuems and coffee shops for the famous Aceh’s coffee beans.

Masjid Mosque Banda Aceh, Indonesia

Aceh great mosque. Photo by Vidi Agiorno

Day 11, 12 and 13 – Pulau Weh

Take a ferry out of Banda Aceh to Sabang, to get to Pulau Weh, with fast ferry with only 45 minutes and slow ferry/boat for 2 hours. As one of the best diving site in Indonesia with 20 diving spots, Pulau Weh is worth to take a trip out to. Off the beaten track from Sumatra and one of Indonesia’s beautiful islands, this jungle island house many rare species from the land to the sea.

Sabang, Pulau Weh, Sumatra, Indonesia

Sabang, Pulau Weh. Photo by Franc López

Day 14 – Banda Aceh

Get back on land to Banda Aceh and fly out at the airport here onwards to other places in Indonesia or elsewhere. There are frequent flights to Jakarta and Kuala Lumpur from Banda Aceh.

If you have some more time, do consider adding more days in Pulau Weh or Lake Toba for relaxation, as they are one of the favourite gems of travelers in Sumatra. As you can see, there are more than Sumatra that meets the eye, with 2 weeks we are only barely scratching the surface of northern part of it. But with that, we have covered a lot of the best of what Sumatra can offer and it’s good enough as a tasting tour of Sumatra.

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Sumatra Travel Guide

Author: Pearl

Living in Jakarta for more than 20 years now, she still have not manage to cover the tip of Indonesia’s diverse destinations, people and even food! Pearl loves shopping as much as enjoying luxury but she knows all these have to be done sensibly and on a budget. Therefore you may find the best scoop and offers in Jakarta and beyond with her.