Lake Toba, a Mega-Colossal Crater Created with a Devastating Bang

Heri Sisworo

Heri Sisworo

On English
Toba Lake Toba Lake

Lake Toba is one of many grand natural wonders in Indonesia. Toba is a natural lake created by a supervolcano eruption some 70.000 years ago. The eruption caused a worldwide catastrophe and the ensuing collapse formed a huge caldera filled with water. Resurgent dome creates an island in the middle of the lake, known as Samosir Island.

peninsula Tuk-tuk. Island-Samosir, Lake Toba. Sumatra

peninsula Tuk-tuk. Island-Samosir, Lake Toba. Sumatra (c) ShutterstockToba is located in the north part of Sumatra Island, Toba is the world’s largest quaternary caldera. With 100 kilometers by 30 kilometers, up to 500 meters deep, Toba is one of the deepest lake in the world. Obviously, there are lots of natural attractions surrounding Toba and Samosir Island.

And yet, Toba is much more than just a natural beauty. This place is one of the centers of Batak culture. Toba and Samosir has long been the place of one of the most prominent Batak Kingdoms. It is not wrong to say that Toba and its surrounding area is the centerpiece of Batak culture.

Tomok Village, the Gateway of Samosir Island

Ancient-kingdom-Batak-tomb-on-the-Samosir-island,-Toba-lake,-Indonesia,-North-Sumatra (c) Shutterstock
Ancient-kingdom-Batak-tomb-on-the-Samosir-island,-Toba-lake,-Indonesia,-North-Sumatra (c) Shutterstock

Tomok is a small village located in the mideastern part of Samosir Island. Tomok is the gateway to enter Samosir from the mainland Sumatra, via Ajibata Port, Parapat.

Due to its accessible location, Tomok is very popular tourist destination. Though small, Tomok has several interesting spots, mostly concerning Batak’s cultural and historical elements.

You can start by visiting Batak Samosir Museum inside a building known as Rumah Bolon, the house of the kings. Watch your head because this roomless building has rather low ceiling. Many interesting adorn this small museum, including centuries old bed, traditional weapons, traditional loom, and many art pieces.

You can also visit King Sidabutar Tomb Complex. You’ll have to wear an ulos (traditional cloth of Batak) to enter this complex. You can see several stone caskets on the ground. Those are the caskets of The Sidabutar Kings.

You can end your day at Tomok by shopping at the market. You can get many souvenirs, all locally and traditionally made.

Tuk-tuk Village, a Lakefront Resort Village

View-of-village-Tuktuk-on-island-Samosir,-Lake-Toba,-Indonesia (c) Shutterstock
View-of-village-Tuktuk-on-island-Samosir,-Lake-Toba,-Indonesia (c) Shutterstock

Tuk-tuk is a village located at the head of a small cape in the eastern part of Samosir Island. This village the most popular destination in Toba and is an ideal location for family recreation. With many hotels and other amenities, you can literally pick any accommodation that suit your need and budget.

Tuk-tuk is ideal for leisure biking. You can cycle on the lakefront road with great view on the lake and many hills around. You don’t even need to bring your own bike as there are several rentals in Tuk-tuk. You’ll probably need two hours to enjoy everything Tuk-tuk has to offer.

Tuk-tuk is also known for its woodcarving arts. Other than just buying a finished item, you can also try carve the wood yourself. You can pick any style you want or just write your name or your loved ones.

Being at the shore of Toba, Tuk-tuk naturally also has some water recreation options such as canoeing, renting a boat, fishing, or simply swimming in the lake.

Vantage Points of Toba Lake

Holbung-Hill-view-at-toba-lake,-Sumatera-Indonesia (c) Shutterstock
Holbung-Hill-view-at-toba-lake,-Sumatera-Indonesia (c) Shutterstock

Toba is immensely large and you cannot get all of its grandeur from just one point. Samosir Island alone is almost as large as Singapore! It’s normal that there are several spots that provide extraordinary vistas of Toba and Samosir.

The first vantage point is Menara Pandang Tele. This is a three story tower located at Tele Village. It’s still on the mainland Sumatra but administratively, it belongs to Samosir Regency. You’ll need to hike a hill with winding road on a slope to reach this tower.  But once you get to the top, you’ll find a panorama incomparable with any other, especially at late noon.

The next vantage point is from Holbung Hill. This hill is only accessible via light trekking as no road big enough to accommodate vehicles up here. All vehicle should be parked at the Janji Village on the foot of the hill. You’ll need to hike for approximately 15 minutes to reach the top of the hill. From that point, you’ll get an unobstructed view on other hills just like the giant version of Teletubbies hills. The view of Lake Toba from this point is also stunning.

Other option is to go to Sipinsur Park Geosite. This is one of the best travel destination of Humbang Hasundutan Regency. Sipinsur Park is located on a plateau overlooking southwestern part of Lake Toba. Not only offering a comfortable viewing experience, you can also camp in this park. In fact, the pine forest in Sipinsur Park is a prime location for campers in Northern Sumatra.

The Many Waterfalls of Toba

Sipiso-piso-waterfall-on-the-north-side-of-Lake-Toba,-near-Medan,-North-Sumatra,-Indonesia. (c) Shutterstock
Sipiso-piso-waterfall-on-the-north-side-of-Lake-Toba,-near-Medan,-North-Sumatra,-Indonesia. (c) Shutterstock

Toba and the surrounding area is a haven for waterfall lovers. There are lots of waterfalls to choose from when you visit Lake Toba or Samosir Island.

Efrata Waterfall is located at Sosor Dolok Village, some 20 kilometers from Pangururan, the capital of Samosir Regency. It’s accessible but sadly the accommodation isn’t the best, compared to other tourist spots in the island. It offers a pristine waterfall with a great camping site.

Simangande waterfall comes next. It’s highly distinguishable from afar. The cliff that supports the waterfall is heart shaped, with the waterfall located right in the middle. This waterfall is especially popular among young couples, as it is also call Love Waterfall.

Situmurun Waterfall, also known as Jonggi Nihuta or Bidadari Waterfall, is unique as it’s directly fall into Lake Toba. It’s ideal for those who want to get wet and swim right into the lake, under the waterfall.

Sipiso-piso Waterfall is approximately 2 kilometers from the shore of Lake Toba. The water falls 120 meters from a plateau right into a narrow valley, then it empties to Lake Toba. From the hill overlooking the waterfall, you can clearly see Lake Toba as well as Samosir Island.

Enjoying a Hot Spring Bath at Aek Rangat

Aek Rangat
Aek Rangat via Instagram/like_medan

At the foot of Pusuk Buhit hill, there are several natural hot springs. These hot sulfuric water naturally occurs as Toba is actually a supervolcano, where hot springs are naturally formed.

Natural hot springs commonly produce a very high temperature water, that’s why locals at Aek Rangat mix the hot water with cold water to achieve desirable temperature. Locals believe that bathing here can cure several ailments.

There are several ponds and pools in this area. A warm bath at the foot of a majestic hill will give a lasting experience.

Silalahi Museum

Silalahi Museum.
Silalahi Museum. via Instagram/pokok_kelapa

There are many Batak museums in North Sumatra, but none can be compared to TB Silalahi Center. It has a comprehensive collections of all Batak sub tribes. TB Silalahi is one of the most successful Bataknese in Indonesia and he decidec to make a museum showcasing his life and most importantly; Batak Culture.

This museum has an actual Batak Village (Huta Batak) with traditional houses and stone tombs replicas. These centuries old neighborhood can give you ideas on how Batak people live long time ago.

Then you can go on to the actual museum. Unlike the traditional Huta Batak, this museum’s architecture is rather contemporary and modern. The museum’s collection covers not only cultural artifacts of Batak, but also their history.

Nusantara Weaving Festival

Weaving-ulos-cloth.-Ulos-is-the-traditional-cloth-of-the-Batak-people-of-North-Sumatra,-Indonesia.
Weaving-ulos-cloth.-Ulos-is-the-traditional-cloth-of-the-Batak-people-of-North-Sumatra,-Indonesia. (c) Shutterstock

One of the main tourism products of North Sumatra is the traditional textile; Ulos. Every aspect of Ulos is made using traditional Batak method, a skill that is passed down from one generation to the next.

But Batak is not the only one tribe that produce high quality traditional textile products. There are Songket from Lombok and South Sumatra, Batik from Java and many other parts of Indonesia, Sarung Bugis from South Sulawesi, Tenun Dayak, and many more.

Festival Tenun Nusantara aims to give platform for all those weavers to showcase their products in one big event. However, the main focus is still all Ulos in Toba and nearby areas.

The theme of this festival is ‘Ahu Partonun’ (I am a weaver). This event is fully supported by local governments as well as The Ministry of Education and Culture.

Tobatak Music Festival, an Open Air Fiesta

Tobatak Music Festival
Tobatak Music Festival. via Instagram/samosirmusicint.official

One of the most successful formula to promote an already popular tourist destination is by organizing a themed music festival. There are Java Jazz Festival in Jakarta, Prambanan Jazz festival in Prambanan, or Jazz Gunung in Mount Bromo.

Samosir have similar event; The Tobatak Music Festival. It’s an annual international festival, carried out by local committee to promote not only the beauty of the region, but also their culture.

Other similar festival mostly rely on the big name of the performers to success. Here in Samosir, they also slip Batak culture to the festival. Most of the performers usually collaborate with local Batak musicians to perform traditional songs.

The inaugural festival was held on 2016. In their third edition in 2018, their two main performers are Eurovision finalist Nadine Beller and Bernadeta Astari, Indonesian Soprano singer.

Geobike Caldera Toba, More Than Just Cycling

beautiful-sunset-and-view-Lake-Toba,-North-Sumatra. (c) Shutterstock
beautiful-sunset-and-view-Lake-Toba,-North-Sumatra. (c) Shutterstock

This is an event for casual and serious cyclists alike who want to enjoy Lake Toba in its entirety. An annual event, Geobike Caldera Toba has different theme each year.

As a cycling competition, Geobike Caldera Toba is quite challenging as the total distance usually is about 135 kilometers. However, all participants will also be introduced to many beautiful spots along the way.

This is not a simple race as the main target is to present Toba’s Geodiversity, Biodiversity, and Culturediversity. There are several stops that allow the participants to sip specialty coffee at Lintong Ni Huta while enjoying spectacular scenery.

From start to finish, there are also many traditional show. This event is usually concluded with a huge art performance near the finish line.

Mie Gomak, Handmade Spaghetti with a Batak Twist

Mie Gomak
Mie Gomak. via Instagram/gohana_navra

Mie Gomak is a popular food in Toba and its surrounding area. It’s a noodle that is made traditionally and fully handmade. Its look and texture are rather similar to Italian Spaghetti, and that’s why many people say Mie Gomak is Batak’s spaghetti.

But Mie Gomak is very unique in a sense that it uses only local ingredients and seasoning. The main seasoning that gives its special flavor is andaliman, a unique pepper from North Sumatra.

Best place to enjoy Mie Gomak:

  • Mie Gomak vendors can be found in many places as street food. Most hotels in Toba also offer this menu.
  • Romlan Restaurant – Jl. Lingkar Tuktuk Siadong No. 36 | Romlan Guesthouse, Samosir 22395, Indonesia.

Local Fish Delicacies

Traditional food in Toba Lake.
Traditional food in Toba Lake. via Instagram/vel0711

Being a huge lake, Toba naturally also produce lots of fishes; mostly Mujair (Tilapia), Parrot Fish, and Carp Fish. Nearly all restaurant and hotels surrounding Toba offers fish menus.

You might enjoy Arsik, some sort of fish curry with andaliman. Naniura is an uncooked fish with seasoning, much like sushi. Natinombur is grilled fish with special sauce.

Best place to try Toba fish delicacies:

  • Leo’s Restaurant – Tuktuk Siadong, Samosi, Indonesia
  • Jenny’s Restaurant – Tuktuk Siadong, Samosir, Indonesia
  • Maruba restaurant – Tuktuk Siadong, Samosir 22395, Indonesia

Pork Lovers Heaven

Saksang.-Traditional-Batak-dish-of-cube-pork-meat-braised-with-spices-and-pork-blood. (c) Shutterstock
Saksang.-Traditional-Batak-dish-of-cube-pork-meat-braised-with-spices-and-pork-blood. (c) Shutterstock

One of Batak favorite food is pork-based. Batak people have their own grilled pork. Slow roast with tamarind water as main seasoning will make the meat evenly cooked. The main sauce is pig’s blood with special seasoning.

Saksang is minced pork stewed in its own blood, spices, and coconut milk, and of course also andaliman. Tanggo-tanggo is similar to Saksang, only with bigger size of pork. All food in Batak usually is also eaten with Daun Ubi Tumbuk (pounden cassava leaves).

Best place to enjoy pork in Toba:

  • Elios Restaurant – Tuktuk Siadong, Simanindo, Samosir Regency, North Sumatra
  • Maruba Restaurant – Jl. Tuk tuk siadong, Tuktuk Siadong, Samosir, Indonesia
  • Popy’s Restaurant – Popy’s Guest House, Tuktuk Siadong, Samosir 22395, Indonesia.

What to Do in Lake Toba

Samosir village Sumatra Indonesia (c)Shutterstock
Samosir village Sumatra Indonesia (c) Shutterstock

There are limitless recreational option in Toba. The first thing you should do when you arrived at Toba is probably just relax and enjoy the magnificent panorama. You’ll need lots of energy to explore everything beautiful in Toba.

If you want to learn Batak history and culture, you can start from Tomok Village. You can see the actual traditional house and even ancient tomb complex. There are also lots of museum showcasing Batak heritage around this area.

Moving a bit to the north, you will arrive at Tuk-tuk village, probably the most famous village in the entire area. You will find best amenities here. You can rent a bike to explore this magnificent village (or even the whole island).

There are lots of splendid stunning waterfalls. From the great Sipiso-piso waterfall to Situmurun that drops directly into the lake. If hiking is your thing, you’ll find many hiking spots where you’ll be rewarded with marvelous vistas at the top.

Tor-tor,-Indonesian-Traditional-ceremony-from-Batak (c) Shutterstock
Tor-tor,-Indonesian-Traditional-ceremony-from-Batak (c) Shutterstock

You also bathe in hot spring resorts in Pusuk Buhit. Or if you really want to learn about Batak culture, you can attend a Tor Tor dance course, or learn how they weave their traditional textile; Ulos.

How to Get There

Traditional-Batak-houses-on-Samosir-island,-Sumatra,-Indonesia,-Southeast-Asia
Traditional-Batak-houses-on-Samosir-island,-Sumatra,-Indonesia,-Southeast-Asia (c) Shutterstock

Lake Toba and Samosir Island is mostly accessible by land transport. It is located about 170 kilometers from Medan, the capital of North Sumatra.

By land. You’ll need an approximately 5 hours drive from Medan to parapet, a lakefront town. From Parapat, you can hop on a ferry boat to go to Tomok Village or Tuk-tuk Village. Fully road trip is also possible though you’ll have to drive around the lake to reach Pangururan. Within Samosir Island, there is already a road network connecting the whole island.

By Air. Kualanamu International Airport in Medan is the new international transit center in Sumatra. It is the third largest airport in Indonesia. It offers local and international flights daily. These are some flight destination from Kualanamu Airports.

  • Malaysia – Kuala Lumpur International Airport, Penang International Airport, Sultan Azlan Shah Airport Ipoh.
  • India – Chennai International Airport
  • Hong Kong – Hong Kong International Airport
  • Saudi Arabia – Seasonal for Hajj to Jeddah and Medina
  • Singapore – Changi International Airport.
  • Thailand – Don Mueang International Airport.

Best Hotels in Lake Toba

Taman Simalem Resort
Taman Simalem Resort. via Instagram/arabonagabona
  • Taman Simalem Resort – Jl. Sidikalang Km. 9, Merek 22173, Indonesia – Starts from IDR 1.201.518
  • Inna Parapat – Jl. Marihat No. 1 | Lake Toba, Parapat 21174, Indonesia – Starts from IDR 556.364
  • Tiara Bunga Hotel dan Villa – Jl. Tuktuk Tara Bunga, Samosir, Indonesia – Starts from IDR 520.661.