Lake Toba

Lake Toba

Largest Volcanic Lake in the World

Just picture in your mind the “Glen of Tranquility”… Got it? Then this is that place! Difficult to get to but well worth the hellish, bone shaking six-hour bus ride.


This place was once on the “banana pancake” tourist trail but for whatever reason it’s not now, it’s hardly ever visited apart from the odd adventure seeking backpacker and local Indonesian tourist. This makes the hosts very very welcoming and friendly. Not to mention cheap as chips!


The Natural Beauty of Lake Toba is astounding. Huge mountainous walls and rugged terrain mixed with the sheer size and water volume of the lake, it almost feels like an inland sea!


The pictures here do not let you appreciate the massiveness of Toba. Samosir is the name of the island in the middle of the lake and the island alone is the size of Singapore! It takes a whole day of motorbike travel to circumnavigate this island.


You will arrive in Parapat, the main town and port on the edge of the lake, from here you will take one of the regular ferries to the island of Samosir. The small peninsula on the island called Tuk Tuk is where all the hotels and guest houses are. Like I said before, hardly anyone comes here so you are guaranteed a cheap stay! I’m talking about a lakeside view for less than $10 a night! Bargain!


And don’t be defensive against the “touts” you’ll meet on the boat. Unlike Thailand and other touristy places they are not trying to rip you off. Yeah, they’ll make some commission on selling you a hotel or onward bus ticket but you’ll get it at the same price you’d pay direct with the guesthouse (I was un-trusting at first and even called the hotel to make sure) These guys are just trying to make a living from what was once – a Buzzing tourist destination.


I highly recommend renting one of the cheap motorbikes ($5 a day) in Tuk Tuk and travelling around the various sights around the island. Because you are so high above sea level it never gets hot – but be warned – you are on the equator so the sun is mega strong! Wear sunscreen!


I’ve never been anywhere in my life so quiet and serene. It’s just magical. You’d never believe you are sat right on top of one of the worlds biggest natural disasters waiting to happen. Lake Toba is a Super Volcano and one day it will blow again! But don’t let that put you off, it’s well worth the risk 😉


To get here from Medan (like I did) was really easy, from Medan airport just ask any of the waiting drivers how to get to Toba and they will take you to a kind of “bus station” I paid $2. Then from there one of the guys will flag down a local minibus to take you to Toba, for that i paid about $6 for the six-hour ride through mountains and forest – the road is bad and i’ll be brutally honest, it’s not a pleasant journey. You can pay a lot more if you book through travel agents or look online. But where’s the fun in that? Much more adventurous and exciting doing it the local way!


Onward travel from Lake Toba is easy too, just tell one of the friendly guys on the boat, hotel, or when you get to Parapat where you want to go next and they sort it all out for you. No scams, no rip-offs, it really is strangely easy and refreshing when you’ve come from Thailand or Cambodia where you really cannot trust anyone. Everyone here seemed so helpful and appreciative.

Sunrise Lake Toba

Another thing! GET UP EARLY and watch the incredible sunrise and eat breakfast by the lake!!

Breakfast By The Lake

I honestly cannot believe why hardly any people come here. It’s one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been to!

And one hell of an adventure!

Happy Travels

6 thoughts on “Lake Toba

  1. Wow! amazing post and great pictures. i have never even dreamt of visiting lake Toba but from your experience i can judge its a place worth visiting which i gonna do in the near future.

  2. Great spot! But I don’t know if I ever want to go through Medan or take that ‘Highway of Hell’ again. Tough place to get to but really sweet people in Lake Toba and geography is awesome.
    Frank (bbqboy)

  3. “This place was once on the “banana pancake” tourist trail but for whatever reason it’s not now.”

    The reason is simple. Some ten or so years ago the then 60 day visa on arrival was reduced to 30 days. Given that Yogyakarta and Bali are easier to get to, and that to explore Sumatra generally means arriving in Jakarta and flying north to Medan before the six hour journey (plus the time spent getting to Samosir from Parapat,

    A day’s journey away, Bukittinggi in West Sumatra used to have a dozen places where you could meet up, have a banana pancake and quaff a few Bintangs. But now there’s just one. There also used to be a thriving trekking circuit – to the Mentawai Islands, Harau Valley, and elsewhere within the jungle hinterland; or you could chill beside Lake Maninjau.

    All are still worth visiting, but only if you have the time, or ignore Java and Bali..

    It’s no problem for those of us who live in Indonesia, but I do still miss those days.

    (Click my avatar for a link to some of my travel diary entries about Sumatra some 25 years ago.)

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