Lake Toba is one of the awesome natural wonders of the world. This is a crater lake so enormous it has an island almost the size of Singapore in its centre. At over 1,145 square kilometers, and a depth of 450 meters, Lake Toba is actually more like an ocean. This is the largest lake in Southeast Asia and one of the deepest lakes in the world.
Toba is a place to come and sit back, relax and absorb some beautiful pristine scenery. As you sit and take in the view of the picturesque mountains set against the cool clear lake, you will feel the worries of the world melt away. As the lake sits 900 meters above sea level there is a cooler climate here making a refreshing break from the heat, humidity and pollution of the city.
Venture onto the island of Samosir in the middle of the lake and you will discover mountains steeped in cool mist, clear waterfalls to swim under and locals taking their water buffalo out in the fields.
This is a place to come and enjoy the legendary Batak hospitality. Say cheers and enjoy some traditional palm wine with the locals. Sit and have coffee and chat with islanders keen to practice their English. Where-ever you go, it won't take long to make a new friend.
On the main land, the town Parapat occupies a small, rocky peninsula jutting out into the lake. On the way down to Parapat from the hill town of Berastagi you will get some spectacular views as the lake first comes into sight and the road winds its way down the mountain closer to the shoreline. In Parapat live the Batak Toba and Batak Simalungun people who are known as happy and easygoing people, famous for their lively and sentimental songs. Although the majority have embraced Christianity, ancient beliefs and traditions still persist.
Many visitors prefer to take the more scenic option and stay on the massive island of Samosir in the middle of the lake. The original home of the Batak Toba people, the island has many traces of ancient days including stone tombs and traditional villages, such as at Ambarita which has a courtyard with stone furniture where in the old days convicts were tried and beheaded. Or visit Simanindo where traditional Batak ritual dances and music are performed. Here is where you'll be able to discover unique and ancient Toba culture. At Tomok you can find mementos and Batak handicrafts. Buy the distinctive red and black hand-woven shawls called ulos- that are still used today at important life-cycle occasions, a Batak calendar on rattan, woodcarvings and more.
Parapat is 176 km from Medan and can be reached in under 6 hours by public bus. The bus has two routes: Medan-Parapat or via Medan-Berastagi and costs approximately 30,000 rupiahs.
You can buy a spot in a private air conditioned taxi from Medan to Parapat for 65,000 rupiahs one way. The trip takes around 4 hours. Travel agents in Medan can also organize a rental car plus a chauffeur for you.
Medan is an international gateway. A number of airlines fly daily between Medan and all major cities in Indonesia and international flights also go from Medan to Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand.
Once you arrive in Parapat, you can catch the ferry to Samosir Island. The two landing points on Samosir are the traditional village of Tomok or Tuk Tuk, where the island’s hotels and restaurants are concentrated. If you are coming overland from the south via Bukittinggi and Tarutung there is a public bus available.
Feel the wind in your hair and do as the locals do by hiring a motorbike to explore this beautiful part of the world. If you’re on Samosir, take the day to explore by taking a drive on the road running around the edge of the island. Although rough and unpaved in places, this road offers some spectacular views of the lake from the highest points on the island.
If you’re staying in the popular village of Tuk Tuk on Samosir, the best way to get around is to walk, or wander, down the main street at a leisurely pace.
There are a range of hotels, bungalows, villas and guesthouses available in Parapat. On the island of Samosir, the majority of hotels are found in Tuk Tuk. Here you can find something to suit any budget. Tuk Tuk is a great base from which to explore the rest of the island, and the facilities here are comfortable and convenient.
In Parapat you can buy souvenirs such as T-shirts and key chains. There is also a traditional market which happens twice a week selling fruit, vegetables and clothing.
For more unique souvenirs (even antiques) try shopping on Samosir. If you're interested in buying some ulos cloths, famous for beautiful motifs and smooth weaving, visit the traditional village of Jangga where you can even witness ulos in the making.