Lake Toba & Samosir Island – Best Things to Do

This post was last updated on May 18th, 2020 at 12:57 pm

Lake Toba (also known as Danau Toba) is located on the Indonesian island of Sumatra and is the largest lake in Southeast Asia (around 1,700 square kilometers). The deepest point is not exactly known, but it is estimated at more than 450 meters. It is one of the most relaxed spots on the whole island and a wonderful place to linger for a few days. Especially if you choose to stay on the island in the lake: Samosir Island, created about 30,000 years ago by a volcanic eruption, and preferably in the town of Tuk Tuk.


Tuk Tuk (not to be confused with the Tuk Tuk from Thailand) is the largest village on the island and here you will also find most accommodations and restaurants. Other villages on the island are Ambarita, Tomok, and Simanindo.


Also read: Route and planning for a 17-day backpacking trip in Sumatra


Beautiful blue water, sky and jungle at Lake Toba


Best Sights & Things to Do at Lake Toba

You will be introduced to the special culture of the Toba Batak tribe, but you can also rent a scooter or take an Indonesian cooking course. It is particularly popular with backpackers and the atmosphere on the island is fantastic. Curious what you can do at Lake Toba? Here are 10 tips for your stay at the relaxed Lake Toba.


1. Spend the Night in a Batak House

Everywhere on Samosir Island, you’ll find traditional houses with pointed roofs and special decorations, with the cattle kept on the ground floor. In Tuk Tuk, you can spend the night in such an old Batak house, complete with mini doors and a veranda.


We recommend the amazing Bagus Bay Homestay. A small paradise with a garden full of tropical fruit trees and a pond with beautiful purple lilies. We can 100 percent recommend staying the night here for a few nights if you go to Lake Toba. We’ve had bad experiences with Merlyn Guesthouse, where rats walked in our room, slatted frames were missing, and to top it all off, we suffered food poisoning from breakfast.


Three Traditional Batak houses on Samosir island, Sumatra


2. Get a Massage at Tabo Cottages

An overnight stay at hotel Tabo Cottages is quite expensive, but as a backpacker on a budget, you can fortunately only use the facilities. For example, take a dip in the wonderfully clean swimming pool, go out for a nice dinner or book a massage for much needed extra relaxation.


3. Visit the Hot Springs of Pangururan

Officially you have to leave Samosir Island to get there, but the hot springs of Pangururan can be reached easily with a scooter. About half an hour’s drive from Tuk Tuk, you will find these high-altitude hot springs, which consist of several pools with sweltering, volcanic water. It’s an activity you should undertake when you just feel like getting some relaxation.


Grasslands and blue sky on Samosir Island


4. Swimming in Lake Toba

Lake Toba is 100 kilometers long, 31 kilometers wide, and about 450 meters deep. The crater lake was created after a large volcanic eruption and today you can enjoy swimming on the lake. Almost all guesthouses and hotels are on the water and have their own jetty to easily get in and out of the water.


5. Tour the Island with a Scooter

Samosir Island is beautiful and if you want to see the whole island it is best to rent a scooter to drive through the endless rice fields and visit the small Batak villages. The roads are relatively good and the traffic is very quiet. Scooters can be rented for a small price at guesthouses and shops in Tuk Tuk.


Wet Rice Fields in Samosir with Lake Toba in the distance


6. Visit the Market in Parapat

Chances are that you take the boat in the town of Parapat to Samosir Island. If you have the time, you can take a walk on the waterfront here. A great place to watch the locals and buy fresh fruit. You will also find a number of cafes here with a view over Lake Toba. Here you can quietly wait for the boat and chat with the curious locals.


Port of Parapat City


7. Indonesian Cooking Class at Juwita Cafe

Gado-Gado, nasi goreng, and barbecue fish. Those who want to take some knowledge back home about Indonesian cuisine can take a cooking course at Juwita Cafe. You will learn how to make a real Indonesian dish and you will work with local herbs and spices. You can eat the result in the lovely garden with a view over Lake Toba.


8. Trekking on Samosir Island

The interior of Samosir Island is covered with rice fields and hills, and there are a number of trekking trails that take you past the most beautiful viewpoints and sights. Guesthouses and hotels have maps of the area and can tell you more about the different routes. Make sure you have good shoes and bring enough water, you will not meet many people on the way.


Green Rice Terraces on the hills of Samosir Island


9. Experience the Culture of the Toba Batak

Samosir Island is originally inhabited by the Toba Batak, an indigenous tribe who were not averse to cannibalism until the year 1816. Fortunately, the Batak nowadays have less violent traditions and during your visit to Lake Toba, you will meet the friendly locals. Regular weddings take place in Tuk Tuk, where you as a tourist are welcome to join. A nice place to visit is the Batak Museum, which is located just outside Tuk Tuk.


10. Visit the Tomb of King Sidabutar

About five kilometers southeast of Tuk Tuk stands the tomb of Batak king Sidabutar. Legend has it that he was the very first to set foot on Samosir Island. The complex can be visited from sunrise to sunset and consists of several tombs, statues, and totem poles. An impressive sight.


King Sidabutar's tomb with his family next to him


TIP – Also check out the Sipiso Piso waterfall if you have the time. This magnificent waterfall is located near the north of Lake Toba.


Traveling to Lake Toba

Lake Toba is located in the north of Sumatra, a few hours’ drive from Medan. We traveled to Lake Toba from Bukit Lawang. From Bukit Lawang, you can directly get to Lake Toba. But it is of course also possible to take the bus in Medan. The starting point for your stay on Lake Toba is the town of Parapat, where you can take the ferry to Tuk Tuk. The ticket for the boat is usually already included in the price of your bus ticket.


Once you have arrived in Tuk Tuk, the owners of the guesthouses are already waiting for you at the jetty. It is advisable to book a hotel in advance so you don’t let yourself be tempted to stay at a shabby place. In our opinion, Bagus Bay Homestay is a very nice place to sleep, with simple, clean rooms and a nice garden. Tabo Cottages is the most luxurious hotel in Tuk Tuk, with its own swimming pool, good restaurant, bakery, and wellness center. Click here for an overview of the best hotels around Lake Toba.


After your stay on Lake Toba, most travelers go back to Medan, but you can also travel (just like us) to Bukittinggi. The west of Sumatra is very beautiful, so we can recommend it wholeheartedly. A night bus departs every evening and will take you to Bukittinggi at 6 p.m. Tickets are available at your hotel or at the ticket office in the port of Parapat. Read our story about our stay in Bukittinggi here.


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