Lake Toba: A Comprehensive Guide to Sumatra’s Hidden Gem


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

It is the largest volcanic lake in the world measuring 1,707 sq ft. It is formed by a gigantic volcanic eruption some 70,000 years ago and is probably the world’s largest caldera. As a fact, this lake was a product of a massive supervolcanic eruption about 77,000 years ago, which is known as the Toba catastrophe theory that is rumored to have killed much of the human population.

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

Guide to lake toba, sumatra
Guide to Lake Toba, Sumatra

Where is Lake Toba

This largest volcanic lake in the world is located in the northern part of the Indonesian island of Sumatra. It is situated in the province of North Sumatra, about 176 km from the capital city of Medan.

Samosir island (Pulau Samosir) is located in the middle of Lake Toba. It is the largest island within an island in the world!

Indonesia sumatra map
Indonesia Sumatra Map with Lake Toba. Photo by Burmesedays.

Why visit Lake Toba

The fact that it is the largest volcanic lake in the world is attractive enough, but to add on it is surrounded by scenic mountains and lush forests. The clear lake reflecting its surrounding gives off a relaxing feeling.

The Batak people living here are another highlight of the place. They are outgoing, and they will make sure your stay is well worth it. Just say “Horas” (a traditional Batak greeting) and you will definitely get a dose of their hospitality and maybe some of their local jungle juice, pipes, and music!

Lake toba sumatra indonesia batak people women
Batak people at Lake Toba. Photo by Marc Veraart

When to visit / Weather in Lake Toba

The best time to go to Lake Toba is May when the weather is changing from slightly cool to warm.

Generally, the dry season from May to September can be a good time to visit Lake Toba. During this time, the rainfall is less and the weather is sunny and pleasant. The temperature is also milder, making it a comfortable time to explore the area. However, Lake Toba is a popular tourist destination and can get crowded in this peak season.

To avoid crowds, the next best time is to visit in April or October when the weather is still favorable but with fewer tourists around.

The place is also particularly popular during Chinese New Year, normally around January/February of the year, therefore, take note of the hike in prices and cramp in style.

Batak kids at lake toba, sumatra
Batak kids at Lake Toba, Sumatra. Photo by Marc Veraart.

What to see in Lake Toba / Tourist attractions

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

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

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

Boat at a resort in lake toba, sumatra
Boat at a resort in Lake Toba, Sumatra. Photo by Laurentiu Morariu on Unsplash

Things to do in Lake Toba / Activities

As mentioned it is a place to relax, it is mostly not to do a lot of things. Just kick back and relax, chill by the lakeside. If you must do something, swim in the volcanic lake, or take a boat ride on the lake either during the day or during an overnight party, with the volcano as a backdrop. Book lovers can have some reading up here where there is a second-hand bookshop for you to choose from.

For some active things to do, you can go kayaking on Lake Toba. You may also just take a boat ride on the lake. You may also hike or trek around Lake Toba, including a popular trek to the top of Mount Sibayak. Another tip is to take a boat to Samosir island and then rent a motorbike and tour the island yourself.

But if you are looking for more activities around Lake Toba, here are some recommended things to do:

  • Watch Museum Huta Bolon Simanindo, which has performances twice daily
  • Visit Makam Raja Sidabutar – graves of the former Batak Kings
  • Bath in hot springs in Pangururan
  • Admire the stone chairs in Ambarita – date back to 300 years ago and serve as a judgment seat
  • Hike Pusuk Buhit – the main mountain in the Lake Toba area, it would take 5 hours to the summit
  • Shop for textiles – get your souvenir at Suhi-Suhi village
Lake toba mountain view
Lake Toba mountain view. Photo by Holmes Nainggolan

Best Hotels in Lake Toba / Accommodations

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 the choice of staying in Lake Toba *, with the exception of Chinese New Year when it might peak with tourists thus hiking in price and probably lacking in space. The best-rated hotels here are Horas Family Home * . While the best budget option here is the Toba Village Inn *.

High Mid-range (from 90 USD per night)

Horas Family Home
Horas Family Home is an excellent choice for those seeking an authentic cultural experience in Lake Toba. Run by a friendly local family, the homestay offers traditional Batak meals and cultural activities such as traditional dance performances. Staying at Horas Family Home allows guests to immerse themselves in the local culture and gain a deeper understanding of the Batak way of life. The homestay also offers traditional Batak meals and cultural experiences such as traditional dance performances.
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Check out the latest prices on *


Taman Simalem Resort
Taman Simalem Resort is a fantastic option for those seeking a luxurious and peaceful stay in Lake Toba. The resort features spacious and beautifully appointed rooms with stunning views of the lake and surrounding mountains. The resort’s location on a hilltop offers a tranquil escape from the hustle and bustle of the city, and the lush greenery and fresh mountain air create a serene and rejuvenating atmosphere. The resort also offers a variety of activities for guests to enjoy, such as hiking, biking, and cultural tours.
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Check out the latest prices on *


Mid-range (50 – 90 USD per night)

Toledo Inn
Toledo Inn is a great choice for those seeking a comfortable and affordable stay in Lake Toba. The inn features cozy and clean rooms, and the friendly staff goes above and beyond to ensure guests have a pleasant stay. The inn’s location in Tuk Tuk village on Samosir Island provides easy access to the lake and nearby attractions, and the inn also has a restaurant serving delicious local cuisine.
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Check out the latest prices on *


Budget (below 50 USD per night)

Toba Village Inn
Toba Village Inn is a great choice for those seeking clean and comfortable accommodations in a convenient location. The hotel offers a variety of room options, friendly staff, and a lovely garden area for guests to relax in. Additionally, the hotel’s location in Tuk Tuk village on Samosir Island provides easy access to the lake and nearby attractions. Overall, Toba Village Inn is a fantastic option for those on a budget who still want to enjoy a comfortable stay in Lake Toba.
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Check out the latest prices on *


Toba Cats Garden
Toba Cat’s Garden is a wonderful choice for those seeking a unique and charming stay in Lake Toba. The hotel features cozy and comfortable rooms decorated with beautiful local art, creating a warm and welcoming atmosphere. The friendly staff goes above and beyond to ensure guests have a memorable stay, offering helpful tips and recommendations for exploring the area. The hotel’s location in Tuk Tuk village on Samosir Island provides easy access to the lake and surrounding attractions, and the hotel also has a beautiful garden area for guests to relax and unwind.
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What and where to eat in Lake Toba

There is no shortage of local Indonesian food here, as it is known for its local cuisine. They are such as Batak-style grilled fish and Nasi Padang. There are also a lot of Christians living here so you may find more pork-based dishes than in other parts of North Sumatra. Most of the main restaurants are located in Tomok Village.

Here are some local foods to try in Lake Toba:

  1. Arsik – a traditional Batak fish dish usually made with carp or tilapia and cooked in a spicy sauce of torch ginger flower.
  2. Babi Panggang Karo – a popular Batak pork dish grilled or roasted with a spicy mixture of chilies, garlic, shallots, and galangal.
  3. Saksang – a spicy Batak pork dish made with pork meat, blood, and spices.
  4. Naniura – a traditional Batak dish made with raw fish, usually carp or tilapia. The fish is sliced thinly and marinated in a mixture of lime juice, chili, shallots, and andaliman.
  5. Gomak noodles – a popular Batak noodle dish made with wheat noodles, chicken, vegetables, and a spicy sauce.
  6. Batak-style grilled fish – grilled Lake Toba’s fish with spices and herbs and usually served with a spicy dipping sauce.
  7. Panggang – a Batak-style grilled meat dish made with either beef, chicken, or pork, marinated in a mixture of spices, and grilled to perfection.
Paddy fields at lake toba, sumatra
Paddy fields at Lake Toba, Sumatra. Photo by kenner116

How to travel to Lake Toba

Fly to Medan and then travel by land to Parapat, next to Lake Toba. It is 4 hours trip away from Medan by bus. Or you can take a taxi or schedule 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 38 USD one way.

How to get around

Local public transport is the boat at the lake. Public Boats from Parapat and surrounding areas like Tuk tuk or Tomok at Samosir Island are 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.

Fishing boat on lake toba
Fishing boat on Lake Toba. Photo by Indo_girl2010

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, remember to bring mosquito repellent.

Related Articles:
North Sumatra 7 days Itinerary – Medan, Berastagi, Lake Toba
Top 10 Must Visit Places in Sumatra
Orangutan Trekking in Bukit Lawang
Diving Pulau Weh (Island), Sumatra
Sumatra Travel Guide

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  1. Hi Rachel,
    As a person originated from Samosir Lake Toba, to be honest, your information is quite accurate, and even better than what I know.
    How many times have you visited lake Toba? I will be happy to see you sometimes there, probably during Lake Toba Carnaval Eve? :)
    Anyway, you did good job.
    Thank you Rachel…

    1. Thanks for the compliment, if I do come by I will give you a ping ;) Lake Toba Carnival sounds like an interesting festival, let me check if I can :)

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