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.
It’s hard to imagine a more scenic place to come and enjoy hiking, swimming and sailing although once you arrive it might be difficult to resist the anesthetizing effects of the lake. The cool clear water coupled with the relaxed atmosphere and friendly people is what draws visitors from all over the world to Toba.
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, there is accommodation available in the town of Parapat. 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 a 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. Samosir is accessible by regular ferries from Parapat. Boats also ply around the island regularly.
And if you wish to better understand Batak culture, visit the Batak Museum atBalige, further south on the mainland shore side.
There are many hotels and smaller accommodations around the lake, especially at Parapat, and at Tuktuk on the island of Samosir.
Despite being a tourist spot for many years, Lake Toba still remains a natural and undisturbed natural beauty. Venture away from the small villages and you will find yourself in the country surrounded by farmland, churches and strange tombs peppering the landscape.
Where To Stay
There are a range of hotels, bungalows, villas and guesthouses available in Parapat.
On 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.
What To Do
If you’re feeling energetic, throw yourself into some of the activities on offer here. In Parapat, there area facilities for swimming, water skiing, motor boating, canoeing, fishing and golf.
From Parapat take a leisurely walk in the beautiful Naborsahon River valley where you’ll see spectacular bougainvilleas, pointetties and honeysuckle flowering all year round.
Many visitors spend their time in and on the water by swimming in the invigorating waters or hiring a boat sailing around the huge lake.
The climate is cool and dry and with views of the beautiful lake, this is an ideal place to relax. Watching the sunset over Lake Toba is the perfect way to unwind and spend your time with your loved ones.
This lake has a magical history as locals believe it to be the dwelling place of Namborru (seven ancestor goddesses of Batak Tribe). When a Batak tribe performs a traditional ceremony around the Lake, they must first pray to apply for permit to the Namborru. The best time to see traditional rituals being performed is during the annual Lake Toba Folk Party ceremony, where many ceremonies are performed in respect to the ancestors of the lake. This festival is a colorful celebration of Batak culture, with everything from traditional ceremonies, sporting events and Batak singing and dancing on display.
On Samosir, take a trip inland and explore the two smaller lakes (Sidihoni and Aek Natonang Lake).
If you can resist succumbing to the relaxing atmosphere on Samosir explore inland with a trek into the central highlands. It’s best to ask your hotel or locals for a recommendation for a route as, depending on the time of year, tracks can be muddy and slippery.
Check out distinctive traditional architecture with a tour of Batak Toba house compounds.
If you’re interested in heritage attractions then Tomok village, a traditional village on Samosir, is definitely worth a look. Here you can learn more about local history and customs with a visit to the cemetery complex of King Sidabutar where you will see unique stone etchings.
Samosir Island sells unique wares and souvenirs with antique items to catch your interest.
If you want to learn more about traditional Batak life and culture, try visiting the traditional weaving village of Jangga, about 24 km from Parapat.