Beyond Bali: Why you should visit Lake Toba in Indonesia

This article originally appeared in Outlook India

Located in the heart of the Indonesian island of Sumatra, Lake Toba is an unusual natural marvel known for its natural beauty, flora and fauna, and fascinating culture. Created about 75,000 years ago by the world’s largest super-volcanic eruption ever recorded, this lake spans over an area of over 1200 square km, making it the largest volcanic lake on earth!

A visit to this lake is definitely one for the bucket list, and I’ve shortlisted some unique things for you to do there. 

Take a dip in the lake

Pick a lakeside resort for a daylong view of this

Most resorts and guesthouses are located by the lakeside on Samosir, an island which lies in the centre of the lake. And a perfect way to spend the day at Lake Toba is by taking a dip and swimming in its clear volcanic waters. You can also sit by the water with a drink or try your hand at fishing here. For the more adventurous lot, there are water activities such as kayaking and jet skiing to indulge in as well, which can be arranged by your guesthouse upon request.

Visit a Batak village

The locals of Lake Toba are called ‘Batak’, who belong to an ancient Sumatran tribe. While they have become quite modernised with increased exposure to western culture, they still hold on to local traditions in the form of unique customs and the arts, not unlike the culture of the tribes in Northeast India. To get up, close and personal with their wonderful culture, you can simply rent a motorcycle and ride over to one of the many Batak Villages on the island of Samosir.

Eat traditional Batak food

Often, the best way to explore a new culture is by experimenting with native cuisine, and Lake Toba is no exception to that. While freshwater fish forms an important part of the local diet, different meats such as beef, pork and chicken also form a major part of the daily grub. Some of the unique dishes you shouldn’t miss out on are saksang (a pork dish with pig’s blood), manuk napinadar (a chicken dish with chicken blood) and beef rendang (beef cooked in a spicy coconut curry). For vegetarians, stir-fried cassava leaves, similar to spinach, is a staple, often paired with the delicious vegetable/egg fried rice combination.

Take a Batak cooking lesson

Ready to cook!

To take your Batak culinary tour to the next level, you can try your hand at cooking a traditional meal with a Batak family. These cooking classes are available at various homes across the island of Samosir, and you will not only learn how to cook a meal with local ingredients but also get a chance to visit a wet market and choose these ingredients! 

Visiting a local wet market to pick out fresh ingredients

Drink Sumatran coffee with a view

Traditional Sumatran coffee on a clifftop

A visit to Lake Toba is considered incomplete without tasting the local Sumatran coffee, which is famous world over. To make this experience unique, the island of Samosir has numerous local coffee houses set atop cliffs, where you can get spectacular views of the lake and surrounding hills.  If you’re interested, you can also visit a coffee plantation to learn more about the different beans and the production processes.

Fun fact: Starbucks sources its Sumatran beans from the region.

Visit one of Indonesia’s tallest waterfalls

Sipisopiso is one of the highest waterfalls of Indonesia, which lies in the highlands of North Sumatra. This waterfall, which emerges from a cave at the edge of Lake Toba, is only a couple of hours away and can be visited as a day trip. Here, you can hike down to the waterfall base and splash around in the refreshing pool at the bottom too!

Climb a Volcano

The volcanoes of Sibayak (dormant) or Sinabung (active) are near Lake Toba and you can trek up these in just a few hours. Tours are easily available and if you’re up for it, you can even camp overnight at Sibayak. And to top it off, you can even take a dip in the numerous sulphur springs along the way. For details, you can check with the travel desk of your hotel.

Interesting in volcano trekking in Indonesia? Click here to read about an exciting volcano trek I did on the Indonesian island of Java.

Lake Toba may have been created by a violent explosion, but is a natural tribute to the age-old adage – ‘Every dark cloud has a silver lining’, and this silver lining is well worth a visit!

Getting there

Singapore Airlines, Malaysian Airlines and Air Asia have flights from India to Medan (the closest city to Lake Toba) via Singapore or Kuala Lumpur. From Medan, it is a 6-7 hour drive to Parapat (a town beside Lake Toba). From Parapat, you can take a 45-minute ferry to the island of Samosir, which lies in the middle of the lake and has numerous options for accommodation (highly recommended). Another option is to stay at Parapat and the beauty of the lake from there itself.

Note: Content and photos on this blog, unless credited, belong to the owner of this blog. Reproduction or usage without prior permission is prohibited.


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