The magnificence of Lake Toba is not just from its surroundings, but also from the people that inhabit this wonderful place. It really is such a task to get there but once you are there, it all seems worth it.
Located in North Sumatra, Lake Toba is one of the top natural wonders in the world. When I was there, I stayed on Samosir Island which is located right in the middle of the lake and you can get there via car or by ferry from Parapat. Taking the ferry from Parapat takes about 30 mins to get there and it is almost like a bus stopping you at different locations. From the second I arrived, I knew that this was a place that I could stay for a long period of time. The people that live on the island are known as the Batak people and they take such great pride in their culture and their history. There are many homestays and guesthouses on the island but I chose to stay at Laster Jony's and it was a really great decision. We had arrived a day later than our reservation but they still had our room available and rather than going through the whole process of "checking-in" with passports and payment, they just showed us to our room and let us get settled in.
The homestay is run by the Manuring family and honestly they definitely treated everyone like family. There's Mama, the matriarch of the family and she runs a pretty tight ship, but still treats everyone like they are her own children. Along with mama, there's her son Hamlet and his sisters who are there to help with housekeeping and cooking and then there are also the cousins. It really is a family vibe there. The second after we dropped off our bags, we went to sit in the common area and met some pretty awesome people from the get-go.
The one thing that I really noticed about Samosir was the weather. It is really cooling during the day and night that you don't even need a fan or air-conditioning to sleep. Not only that but Laster Jony's is located right on the lake, so if you feel like taking a dip first thing in the morning, all you have to do is go down the stone stairs and jump right in. Every morning you wake up to the sounds of roosters and dogs barking and there is such a tranquility while you are there.
There are also plenty of things to see on Samosir island and you wouldn't think that it was that big of an island, but it is pretty massive. If you want to explore the whole island, you would need to rent a scooter which is really not that expensive. It is about 100,000 IDR a day ($7.20) with a full tank of gas. However, because we were traveling on a bit of a budget, we didn't really rent a scooter and stayed in the nearby areas. Tuk Tuk and Tomok are the two main towns in Samosir and that is where most of the homestays and guesthouses are. There are plenty of waterfalls to visit and there is also a hot spring nearby, but some people said that it wasn't the most worth it to visit.
The thing about Toba is that it is more of a place to chill and unwind rather than a place to really have things to do every day. Most of the time, just waking up and enjoying the surroundings is the best way to go. If you want to experience traditional Batak culture, you can go to various places to experience the dances but the one place that people generally went to was Bagus Bay guesthouse. They have traditional music and dance every Thursday and Saturday.
There really isn't much nightlife on the island but if you really do want to go out and have a few drinks, you can go to Roy's Pub. Roy's has a full set-up of instruments and they play live music every Tues, Thurs, and Sat. On other days, it is a bit quiet but during the live music days, there is a good mix between locals and tourists. However, there are ways to drink for cheaper on the island so most people opt for that. Most guesthouses and homestays sell beers for about 25,000 IDR ($1.80) - 45,000 IDR ($3.24). There is also a local alcohol they have there called Tuak, it is a palm wine that can be a acquired taste. It has a hint of coconut and it is fermented and made fresh daily. You can ask the reception at the place you are staying to get it for you and it is sold in plastic bags and depending on the vendor, it can range between 20,000 IDR ($1.44) - 40,000 IDR ($2.88) per bag.
It may not be the most appealing looking thing to drink, but it is definitely the cheapest.
Ultimately, the thing I loved about Lake Toba was the fact that it wasn't like those typical backpacker places in Indonesia like Bali or the Gilis were people are there to get drunk. There actually aren't a lot of tourists there because unless someone has told you about it, you wouldn't know how to get there and it really is a task to get to but it is so worth it at the end of the day. There are no chain restaurants or shops, it is fulled with traditional mom and pop shops and it helps the locals.
However, something that has emerged this past month is the Volcano Floating Party started by Ruben and Paul from Spain. It is a boat party cruise that sails from Laster Jony's throughout Lake Toba. So, if you are in the area in the months of July and August, you should definitely experience that and they've got an international DJ playing on deck as well.
Sam Shepards from Europe on August 07, 2019:
Interesting, haven't been to Sumatra region yet. The lake area seems very nice.
Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on July 21, 2019:
I would love to visit Indonesia. Samosir Island and Lake Toba sound like very nice places to explore. Thanks for sharing the information.
Liz Westwood from UK on July 19, 2019:
I don't think I've seen wine in plastic bags like this before. It sounds like an interesting place.
Lorna Lamon on July 19, 2019:
This is a really informative article with lots of interesting facts. Beautiful place well worth a visit.