Lake Toba or Danau Toba as locally known is the largest volcanic lake in the world and a supervolcano located in Northern Sumatra in Indonesia. It is said that its eruption several thousand years ago caused the extinction of some animals and killed most of the humans living during its eruption. However, it has to be proven still as some big shots scientists do not buy this theory. One thing for sure though and no one opposed this time is that it caused a major significant climactic effect through volcanic winter during that time.
Enough of “wikipedia-ish” introduction. I remember hearing about Lake Toba last year. It wasn’t in my original itinerary that time for my month long Indonesian adventure but when my American friend mentioned she would go to Lake Toba as part of her 7-month long hiatus, I got curious and googled it. And boy, I fell in love with its crystal blue water! However upon hearing Northen Sumatra, I knew then I was in for some adventure just to go there.
How To Get There
I flew in to Medan from Jakarta via AirAsia for 2 hours. If you’re coming from Kuala Lumpur, you can also directly fly to Medan through AirAsia as well for an hour flight. I used this route when I flew out of Northern Sumatra as it is cheaper to fly back home to Manila via Kuala Lumpur compare to Jakarta. Then from Medan, you can either ride a bus or shared taxi going to Parapat and it takes around 4-5 hours drive. Parapat is the closest town to Samosir Island – the little island in the middle of the lake which is the main tourist destination. By bus, from the new Kuala Namu International Airport, you should take a bus going to Amplas Bus Terminal in the main city then another bus to Parapat. From airport to Amplas, it should cost you around 6000-7000 IDR and from Amplas to Parapat by around 32000 IDR. Then you need to take a ferry from Parapat town going to Samosir Island and it should not cost you more than 15000 IDR for around 1 hour ride. In my case, I rode a shared taxi going to Parapat directly from the airport. The resort where I stayed arranged this for me for just 100000 IDR (or 65000-75000 IDR going back to Medan) and the driver just picked me up in the arrival area. It is more expensive, well doubled in fact, but it saved me lots of hassles from finding the bus station, waiting for the bus and up to the occasional bus stops etc. And for PHP350 or $8, a shared taxi is not too bad for 4-hour drive plus it’s more comfortable and faster as I had to be at the Parapat port before 7pm which is the last trip for the ferries that go to Samosir. I arrived in the airport at around 2pm and with only 5 hours to go, a public bus is not a practical choice that time as well.
Currency Converter (as of January 2015)
10000 IDR = 35 PHP
12500 IDR = 1 USD
Things To Do
If you’re looking to party or shop, better to remove this destination off your list because Lake Toba neither has any of them. Unless your idea of party is to dance with music from nocturnal insects and shop local handicrafts made by Batak people, then it is a good place. There are local sites like Ambarita where you can find a set of stone chairs that were used for executions by Batak people, interesting cemeteries, the Batak’s museum and amazing waterfalls. Apart from Ambarita and a couple of mausoleums I saw on the road which I find nothing special, I wasn’t able to visit any of these sites.
Why? Because Lake Toba is an amazing place to do nothing at all. If you want to escape the chaos of the city, just relax and don’t want any pressure to cross out your must-do-touristy-thingie list, Lake Toba is the place to be. The view of the lake and the caldera is enough NOT to do/ visit any of those sites I’ve mentioned. So get your book, sun block and sun bathe while facing the views below.
Accommodation, Food, Getting Around and Prices
Lake Toba, just like the rest of Indonesia is pretty cheap. You can find decent accommodations for around 50,000-200000 IDR a night. If you want to indulge yourself, you can also find upper mid-range resorts. I stayed in Tuk Tuk Timbul which is tucked away from the main town of Tuk Tuk and a bit far from majority of the resorts. Originally, I was planning to stay at Mas Cottages that has rave reviews as well and just located besides where I stayed but according to my friend who first got to Lake Toba, they didn’t have decent wifi. Tuk Tuk Timbul is okay for the price and the location is perfect for an amazing sunrise(!).
They have traditional and modern cottages from 50000-150000 IDR. That cheap huh. I stayed in a traditional Batak house which is too big for me. It cost me around 100000 IDR per night and I got a cottage with sitting area, a big bed, balcony and another balcony in the attic area. There’s also a hot shower, but apart from that, it is very basic. There’s also a wifi in the restaurant which is good enough to do skype call. Majority of the resorts have their own restaurants and food range from 20000-100000 IDR per meal. Depending how big your appetite is. Getting around is usually by foot, by bike or motorcycle. Majority of the resorts have motorbikes for rent which usually cost from 80000-120000 per day. Most them already include petrol. Haggle if you can.
Your Backpacking Executive,