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Samosir and Lake Toba Travel Itinerary: 14 Best Activities and Travel Tips

Samosir and Lake Toba Travel Itinerary: 14 Best Activities and Travel Tips

Building a great Lake Toba travel itinerary is important, as it’s not every day that you get to visit the largest volcanic crater lake in the world.

Whether you’re looking to sip on Sumatran coffee and swim all day long or explore the greatest waterfalls and hikes, Lake Toba is full of promise.

The first thing you need to know before you travel to Lake Toba is that the best place to stay is Tuk Tuk on Samosir Island, in the centre of the lake. However, it’s not your only option.

Glamping or camping are some more unusual things to do in Lake Toba and Samosir Island. There are many peaceful villages and towns around Samosir, as well as on the mainland, which offer things like beaches, hot springs, waterfalls or Batak culture.

My Lake Toba travel itinerary covers everything you need to know to visit Lake Toba and Samosir Island, including where to stay, what to do, and how to get around.

For a detailed itinerary for beyond Lake Toba, I have listed all of the best places across west and north Sumatra in my Sumatra backpacking itinerary, as well as the best travel routes.

Wondering what to wear too? I’ve written about what to wear in Sumatra too.

Disclosure: This post includes affiliate links. If you decide to click through and make a qualifying purchase, I will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you – thanks for your support.


Best time to visit: May – September

Time needed: 2 days – 1 week

Best place to stay: Samosir Island

How to get there: Fly with AirAsia to Medan; local bus to Parapat; ferry to Samosir Island.

Best Hotels:

Hotel Niagara Parapat (Parapat) £££

Zoe’s Paradise Waterfront Hotel (Samosir Island) £££

Reggae Guest House (Samosir Island) £££

Where is Lake Toba?

Lake Toba is one of the most famous tourist destinations in Sumatra, an island in Indonesia.

It is located in the north of Sumatra and is the largest volcanic crater lake in the world.

Lake Toba is just over 100 kilometres south of Sumatra’s largest city, Medan. 

The bumpy mountainous terrain between Medan and Lake Toba means that any journey by road can take anywhere between three and six hours depending upon the traffic and road conditions.

Sloping Batak architecture with lake views at one of the best hotels in Lake Toba.

Lake Toba is also near Berastagi. This town 50 kilometres north of Lake Toba sits just under Mount Sibayak, a stratovolcano which features steam vents and hot springs.

Berastagi is a popular stop-off between Lake Toba and Medan.

Is Lake Toba Worth Visiting?

It’s worth re-emphasising that Lake Toba is the largest volcanic crater lake in the world.

In other words, it is the largest lake to have been formed as a result of the explosion or collapse of a volcano.

It is 62 miles long, 19 miles wide and over 500 metres deep.

In the centre of Lake Toba, there is a small island called Samosir Island. This is the largest island within an island in the world.

Bright green, lumpy mountains at Holbung Hill in Lake Toba.

Holbung Hill, Lake Toba

The island’s Toba Batak culture is particularly interesting. Batak villages on the island feature traditional Toba Batak houses (rumah adat).

There are also museums which provide an insight into the Toba Batak culture and history, as well as performances of traditional dances.

Tuk Tuk, the main tourist town on Samosir Island, is lined with lakefront hotels and guesthouses.

This is quite an unusual sight in Sumatra, considering that I met only 10 – 15 other tourists during the entirety of my two to three-week trip in Sumatra (most of these were in my Lake Toba travel stretch).

To summarise, Lake Toba is absolutely worth visiting for:

  • Visiting the largest crater lake in the world
  • Learning about the Toba Batak culture
  • Lakefront relaxation
  • Swimming and watersports
  • Hiking and visiting watersports
  • Glamping or camping

Lake Toba Travel: A Short History of Lake Toba

A distant view of Holbung Hill on the shores of Lake Toba.

Lake Toba was originally a supervolcano. The lake is believed to have formed following an eruption around 74,000 years ago. 

This wasn’t any old eruption. It’s thought that this was the biggest eruption to take place in the last 25 million years. It also caused a volcanic winter, dropping the temperature on earth by several degrees celsius.

In fact, ‘the Toba catastrophe theory’ claims that the eruption killed so many humans that it has impacted the human race’s genetic make-up.

The huge eruption was the final of four caldera-forming eruptions at Lake Toba. This final caldera was filled with water.

The island of Samosir formed when a resurgent dome swelled through the floor of the magma chamber underneath the caldera.

Lake Toba developed as a tourist destination in the ’90s, even hosting backpacker parties. However, tourism gradually declined due to the economic crisis in Indonesia and a string of natural disasters (including the Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami).

More recently, the Indonesian government has renewed its efforts to increase Lake Toba travel and tourism.

For everyone’s benefit, they have been cleaning the lake and building newer, safer roads.

The Legend of Lake Toba

Local mythology tells a different story about the formation of Lake Toba.

It begins with Toba, a farmer who used to fish at the local river. On a particularly dry day at the river, he unexpectedly reeled in a large, golden fish. This fish turned out to be a princess, who had had a curse placed upon her.

View over Samosir Island vegetation and lake from a hilltop.

When the farmer released the fish, she turned back into a woman and married the farmer under the conditions that he wouldn’t tell anybody about her time as a fish.

They married and gave birth to a baby boy. However, one day when the father was furious at the boy for eating all of the family’s rice, he revealed the mother’s story.

This caused a huge thunderstorm, which flooded the valley. The boy, under the instructions of his mother, took refuge at the top of a tree in the valley.

The valley was swamped and only the boy survived, who was turned into an island called Samosir.

The legend has a few different variations, and in one variation, the baby is a girl rather than a boy.

The Best Time to Travel to Lake Toba

The best time to visit Lake Toba is between May and September. This is during the dry season.

Visiting during the dry season should mean that you experience mostly sunshine, with small sprinkles of rain. The temperature should be between 25 and 27 degrees celsius on average.

Rainfall is more regular between November and March, the wet season at Lake Toba. Ideally, you want to avoid visiting during this time. 

If you’re opposed to crowds, try to avoid visiting Lake Toba during the Chinese New Year, Eid al-Fitr, Christmas and New Years celebrations.

How to Travel to Lake Toba

To reach Lake Toba, you need to get to north Sumatra. For this, I’d suggest flying into Medan’s Kualanamu International Airport (KNO).

There are direct flights to Medan from Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia), Singapore and Bangkok.

AirAsia consistently offers great low-cost flights to Medan. 

The Grand Mosque of Medan, a popular backpacking Sumatra attraction.

Medan, Sumatra

Bus From Medan to Lake Toba

From Medan, you will need to take a bus to Lake Toba.

Theoretically, the bus journey should take approximately four hours. In reality, due to traffic and road conditions, it can take up to six to eight hours.

You have the option of taking a tourist bus or public bus from Medan to Lake Toba. 

To take a public bus, simply head to Amplas Bus Terminal in the centre of Medan. Request a ticket for a bus to Parapat, the main bus terminal at Lake Toba. The bus number is usually 64.

A bus should cost between 20,000 and 50,000 IDR. It takes around 6 hours to reach Lake Toba and may be crowded.

At your guesthouse or hotel, you can also ask to book a tourist bus instead.

What’s the difference? The concept of a tourist bus is that it’s more comfortable. The minivans and cars shuttle tourists travelling in the same direction e.g. from Medan to Berastagi and Lake Toba.

It’s more expensive than the public bus.

However, in my experience, tourist buses are more cramped and less comfortable than the public bus. They squeeze around 5 – 8 people into one minivan, often with the luggage loaded on top of the van (yes, it gets wet when it rains, even with the tarp).

Backpacks and tarp on top of a car in Sumatra, the typical transport when backpacking Sumatra.

Tickets for a tourist bus should cost around 80,000 – 10,000 IDR per person.

The main benefit is that the tourist buses drop you directly to the door of your accommodation or a specific pinpoint at your next destination (e.g. the harbour in Parapat). 

Can you Fly From Medan to Lake Toba?

There is also the option of flying from Medan to Silangit Airport (the nearest airport to Lake Toba).

This is located at the south of the lake. It’s convenient if you’re staying in Balige. However, it’s still a two-hour drive from Parapat for the ferry to Samosir Island.

It is also more environmentally-friendly to take the bus.

How to Get From Berastagi to Lake Toba

You may be travelling from Berastagi to Lake Toba too.

In this case, there is no direct public transport connection between Berastagi and Lake Toba. You will need to take a tourist bus or taxi.

A tourist bus can be booked by your guesthouse. It will take multiple tourists travelling in the same direction.

Private car rental is another alternative, although it is expensive. It costs around 400,000 – 500,000 IDR to rent a car for a day.

Taking the Ferry to Samosir Island

In Parapat, you will find the ferry terminal for boats to Samosir Island. To reach the ferry terminal from the bus terminal, you will need to hail a taxi or tuk tuk.

Man sits sideways on a bench in a small bus-style taxi at Lake Toba.

My ride to the ferry terminal in Parapat

Tickets do not need to be booked in advance: simply turn up, navigate to the ticket stand, and buy a ticket in cash.

The ferry runs every half an hour, so even if the first ferry is full, you can take the next.

The final ferry departs at 6:00 pm or 7:30 pm, depending upon whether it is low or high season.

The Samosir ferry stops at Tuk Tuk and Tomok. It can drop you directly to your hotel if it has a port and the ferry isn’t busy.

A one-way ferry ticket costs 70,000 IDR.

Ferries wait next to Samosir Island, a top Lake Toba travel destination.

Expect the journey by ferry to take anywhere between 30 and 60 minutes. Some boats move faster than others.

Where to Stay at Lake Toba

Samosir Island is the best place to stay in Lake Toba. Most of the hotels are congregated in Tuk Tuk, the main village.

View from Reggae Guest House, one of the best hotels in Lake Toba for backpackers.

Tuk Tuk, Samosir Island

However, staying on Samosir Island is not your only option.

There are also other great spots around Lake Toba with hotels and guesthouses, as I have outlined below:

  1. Samosir Island: The best place to stay. It features a wide variety of luxury and budget hotels, as well as excellent views of the lake. The island has a unique Batak culture.
  2. Parapat: The primary tourist destination on the mainland, with access to regular ferries to Samosir. It is primarily occupied by locals and benefits from being closer to several popular waterfalls.
  3. Tongging: On the west of the lake, this destination provides the best access to the incredible Sipiso Piso Waterfall. It is far from the ferry terminal, meaning that it’s best as an add-on destination after Parapat or Samosir.
  4. Balige: A peaceful location on the south of the island, surrounded by hills and featuring a sandy beach. This is an offbeat option and good for families too.

Below I have provided a short summary of some of the best hotels to include in your Lake Toba travel itinerary. 

Check out my full guide to the best hotels in Lake Toba.

It explores the advantages and disadvantages of the main places to stay at Lake Toba, as well as the best hotels for all budgets.

Best Luxury Hotel in Lake Toba

Hotel Niagara Parapat (Parapat): A luxury hilltop resort with unbeatable views and sunsets.

Best Luxury Hotels in Lake Toba:

  1. Hotel Niagara Parapat (Parapat)
  2. Taman Simalem Resort (Tongging)
  3. KHAS Parapat (Parapat)
Sloping Batak architecture with lake views at one of the best hotels in Lake Toba.

The Best Backpackers Hotel

Reggae Guest House (Samosir Island): A friendly backpackers’ haunt with direct access to the lake.

Best Backpacker Hotels in Lake Toba:

  1. Reggae Guest House (Samosir Island)
  2. Laster Jony’s (Samosir Island)
  3. Romlan (Samosir Island)

The Best Value For Money

Zoe’s Paradise Waterfront Hotel (Samosir Island): A sustainable lakefront hotel with a focus on cultural excursions.

Best Mid-Budget Hotels in Lake Toba:

  1. Zoe’s Paradise Waterfront Hotel (Samosir Island)
  2. Juma Cottages (Samosir Island)
  3. Toba Village Inn (Samosir Island)

The Best ‘Wow’ Factor

Bobocabin Signature Toba (Parapat): Log cabins at Lake Toba’s only glamping resort.

Things to Do in Lake Toba

1. Explore Lake Toba’s Batak villages and museums

At the centre of Lake Toba, Samosir Island has a handful of Batak villages. They are home to the Toba Batak people, an ethnic group with distinct customs and a fascinating culture.

Their ancestors migrated to Sumatra from Formosa in Taiwan.

An Indonesian man dressed in traditional Batak garments raises a fist in Ambarita in Samosir Island.
Sloping Batak architecture with lake views at one of the best hotels in Lake Toba.

A little about the Toba Batak people: Batak people are Christian and practice baptism, marriage and burial.

Many children in the families are encouraged to seek out a higher level of education, rather than stay in their original village.

As per the custom ‘hula hula’, women are considered to be the most important figures in the family despite having a patriarchal power structure.

Their villages feature traditional Batak houses (rumah bolon), which have sloping roofs, a staircase in the center of the house and a large beam above the entrance which prompts visitors to bow their heads.

Visit Tuk Tuk

Tuk Tuk is the main tourist village on Samosir Island. It also features Batak architecture and regularly hosts cultural performances. However, these performances are highly geared towards tourists and less authentic.

Mostly, Tuk Tuk is good for trying the Batak cuisine and Indonesian food in general.

Visit Ambarita

Ambarita has a large museum dedicated to Batak culture, called the Huta Bolon Simanindo Batak Museum. Here, you can buy traditional carvings or ulos (a handwoven traditional fabric).

The site often displays performances of the Si Gale Gale dance, which features a wooden puppet.

The village’s Parsidangan Stone was a space used to trial and execute prisoners on Samosir Island. It’s believed to be several hundred years old.

Many people on Toba also believe that Ambarita Village’s Hariara Tree is sacred. It’s thought to be older than most of the settlers. 

The village also features:

  • The tomb of Laga Siallagan, the first king, who was in charge of beheading criminals.
  • The stone chairs of Laga Siallagan.
  • The stone execution table of King Siallagan.
  • The grave of the king and other tribal elders.


Tomok, just east of Tuk Tuk, is one of the largest Batak villages on Samosir Island.

The busy main road in Tomok is lined with shops and warungs.

It also has a museum called the Batak Museum, which is a large traditional house hosting artefacts such as wood carvings and traditional tribal wear.

I was surprised at how small the museum is, especially considering that the entry fee is 5,000 IDR. 

Batak objects inside the Batak Museum in Tomok on Samosir Island in Lake Toba.

If you visit, I’d suggest doing some research on Batak culture beforehand. There are no attendants and no descriptions of the artefacts.

Lumban Suhi-Suhi Toruan

On the east of Samosir Island, Lumban Suhi-Suhi village is best known for its production of the ulos fabric.

Ulos is a traditional garment handwoven by Batak women, often worn in tribal ceremonies.

The fabric’s dyes and motifs are symbolic and may be used to show respect or wish someone well.

2. Explore Lake Toba’s cuisine

The food around Lake Toba is influenced by the Toba Batak culture, as well as local spices. There are also lots of dishes which you will only get the chance to try on your Lake Toba travel itinerary, as they include ingredients which are grown only in the Toba highlights.

I’d suggest venturing outside of Tuk Tuk for the most authentic food. Pangururan is especially good for authentic cuisine.


  • Arsik: Goldfish with ginger fruit and Indonesian szechuan pepper, only grown in Samosir’s highlands. It has pecans, turmeric, red onion, ginger, and garlic. It’s spicy, bitter and sweet all at once.
  • Saksang: A curry made from pork, buffalo or dog meat with blood. This curry is served during Batak weddings.
  • Gomak noodles (Batak spaghetti): This noodle soup consists of thick, spaghetti-shaped yellow noodles, mixed with a coconut milk and ginger broth, and topped with sauteed veggies and possibly a boiled egg if you’re lucky.
  • Dali ni horbo: This is the name of the local buffalo milk cheese from Tapanuli. The Toba Batak people turn the milk (Bagot ni horbo) into a white cheese for celebrations, but because of the strong smell, they add juice from a pineapple or papaya leaf to soften the taste.
  • Na niura (or naniura): Once served to kings, this is a raw fish dish which has been seasoned with Andaliman pepper, turmeric, ginger, candlenut and chili for several hours. 

3. Visit Sipiso Piso Waterfall

Sipiso Piso waterfall near Lake Toba cascades for 72 metres into a deep plunge pool.

Sipiso Piso Waterfall requires a day trip from Lake Toba. You can do it yourself by scooter or arrange a tour with a local driver.

The waterfall drops from a height of 394 feet, but what makes it a total surprise is that at the top of the waterfall, the farmland looks completely ordinary until you reach the very edge of the cliff.

Sipiso Piso waterfall near Lake Toba surrounded greenery.

The waterfall is surrounded by a pine forest.

To get the best view, you will need to hike down (and then up) stairs for around 20 – 60 minutes.

4. Drive or ride to a hilltop coffee shop above Tomok

A wooden hilltop coffee shop above Tomok with views over Lake Toba.

One of my favourite lazy day activities for any Lake Toba travel itinerary is hiring a scooter and taking the winding, uphill roads to the hillside above Tomok.

The mountain roads are lined with gorgeous wooden coffee shops looking out over the lake. They are filled with gaggles of locals, sipping coffee and sharing lunch.

A cup of tea on a wooden ledge at a coffee shop above Tomok on Samosir Island.

Parhallow viewpoint and coffee shop

The coffee is also very affordable and locals are generally very interested in chatting about your travels if they can speak English.

5. Ride a scooter around Samosir Island

Women wearing blue denim jeans and a black cardigan clutches her scooter helmet on a road over Lake Toba.

One of the most appealing parts of visiting Samosir Island is its views over the crater. I can’t think of a better way of visiting its Batak villages and soaking in the scenery than riding through the hillside roads. You’ll often pass waterfalls or grazing water bulls, too.

The roads above Tomok are one of my favourite rides. You will pass Sigarattung Waterfall and countless adorable wooden coffee shops.

Indonesian couple rides a scooter past Air Terjun Sigarattung on Samosir Island, a Lake Toba travel destination.

In general, the south of the island has superior scenery for riding.

However, head to the west for busier roads and the action of Indonesian towns. You could stop for street food in Pangururan.

I was presently surprised by the condition of the roads on Samosir Island. The concrete was largely well-maintained and there was very little gravel on the roads. I avoided any indiscreet roads and stuck to the more main roads.

6. Hike up Pusuk Buhit

Views from Pusuk Buhit mountain on Samosir Island in Lake Toba.

Pusuk Buhit is a mountain on the mainland of Lake Toba with incredible views over Samosir Island. Its summit is 1,800 metres above sea level.

The mountain is also considered to be sacred by the Toba Batak people.

Views from the road towards Pusuk Buhit, a top spot on a Lake Toba travel itinerary.

The only thing is, if you’re a beginner rider, the path to the trailhead is very difficult to navigate.

It is a series of tight uphill turns along a potholed, gravel road and quite precarious for a novice. Unfortunately, I didn’t make it to the trailhead.

7. Try Tuak 

Tuak isn’t specific to a Lake Toba travel itinerary, but it’s still among one of the best things to do in Lake Toba and Samosir Island.

Tuak is consumed across Indonesia but mainly in Christian communities or the Balinese Hindu community.

The sweet wine is brewed from palm juice and should be taken at room temperature. You’ll find it on offer at bars and warungs.

8. Visit Holbung Hill 

A woman with a red coat stands among the grassy hills of Holbung Hill in Lake Toba.

Holbung Hill is one of the best views in Lake Toba. Yet, it’s still mostly undiscovered except by locals. 

To reach the summit, it only takes 10 to 15 minutes of walking uphill. There is a longer hiking route to the top of Holbung Hill on AllTrails.

The hill is located on the southwest shore of the lake

Bright green, lumpy mountains at Holbung Hill in Lake Toba.

Locals call Holbung ‘Love Hill’, as one of the views looks over a heart-shaped shore of the lake. Others call the hill ‘Teletubbies Hill’ because of its bumpy appearance. 

There is a small village of around 500 people at the bottom of the hill with your typical Indonesian warungs if you’d like to eat. There’s also an attraction with small zipwires.

Holbung Hill is a popular destination for camping, although it can get windy on the peak. You will need your own camping gear.

9. Get stuck into watersports

The water at Lake Toba is excellent for swimming and other watersports. Unlike Maninjau Lake in west Sumatra, there are no fish farms in the water. This is an exceptionally clean and clear freshwater lake.

A woman swims in Lake Toba, with Tuk Tuk in Samosir Island in the background.

If you are staying in Tuk Tuk on Samosir Island, the water looks the most inviting during the early morning when the sun is rising.

Woman wearing a black bikini swings on a tyre swing over Lake Toba.

Some of the most popular watersports at Lake Toba are kayaking, jet-skiing, and banana boat rides.

Most hotels and guesthouses can arrange kayaking or jet-skiing for you, although for banana boat rides, this is usually only offered by more luxurious hotels (luckily, if you’re not staying at one, you can head to a beach…)

10. Visit a Beach

Whether your guest house is landlocked or you want a change of scenery, there are plenty of enticing beaches across Lake Toba and Samosir Island.

Some of the best beaches in Samosir Island include:

  • Parbaba Beach: A sandy white beach on the west side of Samosir Island with banana boats, jet skis, rowing boats and water bicycles for rent.
  • Pantai Batuhoda: A sandy beach at the north of Samosir Island and one of the best beaches near Tuk Tuk. It has plenty of facilities, including chairs and warungs, so you can easily spend the whole day there. It’s also well-known for its birdlife and fish.
  • Pantai Bul Bul: A sandy beach in Balige, at the south of Lake Toba, and possibly the best around. It has a large watersports offering, as well as excellent views at sunset.

11. Visit Situmurun Waterfall

Situmurun Waterfall is a 70-metre waterfall on the northeast mainland of Lake Toba.

It cascades directly into Lake Toba, making it one of the most impressive waterfalls at the crater lake and a top contender for any Lake Toba travel itinerary.

There are seven tiers to Situmurun Waterfall. This also means that there are a number of swimming holes at the waterfall, set as designated swimming areas.

Storks are a regular visitor at the waterfall too.

Situmurun Waterfall is a popular stop on most Lake Toba boat tours. Otherwise, to reach the waterfall, you must take a speed boat from either Samosir or Parapat. Some tours also offer kayaking at the waterfall.

12. Visit Sipoholon Hot Springs

Imagine rocks the colour of snow and water so hot that it is steaming. 

That’s what you get at Sipoholon Hot Springs, a natural hot spring with healing minerals such as sulphur, calcium and magnesium. 

The hot springs are easiest to access from Balige, as they are located just south of Lake Toba. A 5,000 IDR entry fee is required because access to the springs is controlled by the local hotel.

13. Go hiking directly from Tuk Tuk

There’s a big chance that you’re staying in or near to Tuk Tuk in Samosir Island.

Handily, it’s possible to hike directly from Tuk Tuk. The easiest hike is the scenic Tuk Tuk coastal trail, which is an hour-long stroll. However, there are signposts around the village pointing to more difficult trails.

Either start early and follow the sing-posting, or ask your guesthouse for a local guide or directions.

14. Go glamping

Don’t worry if you don’t have camping gear, but you want to spend lots of time outdoors at the world’s largest crater lake.

Bobocabin Signature Toba near Parapat is a series of log cabins at Lake Toba’s only glamping resort.

Positioned on a lush, green part of the crater, high above the lake, the log cabins are equipped with firepits for late-night stargazing. The views down the valley, frankly, are incredible.

It’s not frills-free either, as there is Wi-Fi on the glamping site.

Check out the availability for Bobocabin Signature Toba on

Lake Toba Travel: Map of Activities

I have pinned some of the best things to do in Lake Toba on the map below, so that you can save them too.

Lake Toba Travel Itinerary: 2 Days

If you only have two days to spend at Lake Toba, you’re limited on time. Still, you can fit plenty of things into two days.

I’d suggest staying on Samosir Island to get the biggest bang for your buck. You can check the availability for Zoe’s Paradise Waterfront Hotel (£££) or Reggae Guest House (£££).

  • Day 1: Tour the Batak villages on Samosir Island and end the night in Tuk Tuk or Tomok with street food and tuak. If you have time, ride a scooter over the roads above Tomok and stop at a coffee shop in the afternoon.
  • Day 2: Hike Holbung Hill or Pusuk Buhit. If you want to relax instead, visit a beach and spend the day swimming and trying watersports. Explore the cuisine on Samosir Island, such as arsik, saksang, and Batak spaghetti.

Lake Toba Travel Itinerary: 5 Days

For a five-day Lake Toba travel itinerary, you have more time to explore further destinations at Lake Toba.

You may want to spend two or three nights on Samosir Island, before moving to Balige, Tongging, or glamping at Bobocabin Signature Toba. Alternatively, you can take a day trip to Sipiso Piso Waterfall; this would be especially easy from Balige.

  • Day 1: Explore the Batak villages on Samosir Island, taking the time to visit the hilltop coffee shops and roads above Tomok. End the night in Tuk Tuk or Tomok with streetfood and tuak.
  • Day 2: Hike Holbung Hill or Pusuk Buhit. Stop in Pangururan for street food.
  • If you want to relax instead, visit a beach and spend the day swimming and trying watersports. Explore the cuisine on Samosir Island, such as arsik, saksang, and Batak spaghetti.
  • Day 3: Take a boat tour of Lake Toba and visit Situmurun Waterfall.
  • Day 4: Travel to Balige at the south of the lake and take part in watersports at Pantai Bul Bul in the afternoon.
  • Day 5: Take a day trip to Sipiso Piso Waterfall or visit the Sipoholon Hot Springs.

Lake Toba Travel Itinerary: 1 Week

Staying at Lake Toba for one week or more isn’t overkill. Actually, it gives you more time for relaxation. Alternatively, you can fit in more activities, such as those listed in my round-up of the best things to do at Lake Toba.

How to Get Around Lake Toba

Blue water in the morning at Lake Toba, a backpacking Sumatra destination.

Lake Toba does not have an easy public transport system, unless you count the ferries between Parapat and Samosir Island.

The best way to get around Lake Toba is by scooter.

Scooter hire on Samosir Island should cost approximately 60,000 IDR to 100,000 IDR.

If you aren’t confident driving a scooter or you’re not licensed, you can arrange for a driver to take you around the island. You could also rent your own car, but you will need to pick it up from Medan or another city.

Local guides or drivers can take you by scooter, car or tuk tuk. Speak to your guesthouse or hotel to arrange a driver, as they can find you a guide which suits your needs.

Needless to say, this option will be the most expensive, and you may find that they try to rip you off.

Best Lake Toba Tours

Your best bet for booking one-day tours around Lake Toba is to arrange it directly through a tour operator or hotel at the destination.

For multi-day tours of Lake Toba from Medan, there are some good options online.

This 3-day and 2-night tour from Medan gives a chunk of its proceeds to a local school to buy supplies, books and chairs, and to restore buildings. It visits Lake Toba and includes a Batak culture tour, traditional dancing and weaving activities, as well as an easy sunrise trek.

Alternatively, this four-day and three-night tour from Medan visits Medan, Lake Toba and Berastagi. It also stops at Sipiso Piso Waterfall. 

You can also check out the availability for these cool and unusual tours in north Sumatra:

What to Wear at Lake Toba

Man walks down steps to a pontoon at Reggae Guesthouse, a Lake Toba hotel.

Unusually for Sumatra, Lake Toba has a majority Christian population. It’s also one of the most touristic destinations in Sumatra.

Therefore, wearing a swimming costume or a bikini is appropriate at the beach, although you should cover up around the towns.

You don’t need to cover your knees and shoulders. However, dressing modestly is still appreciated by the people at Toba for cultural reasons. You may find that you receive stares – mainly curious stares – if you don’t.

I have written a full guide on what to wear in Sumatra so that you can prepare appropriately – it also includes a free packing list.

Suggested reading for Sumatra:

Best Resources for Sumatra:


What is Lake Toba best known for?

Lake Toba is best known as being the largest volcanic crater lake in the world. It is 62 miles long, 19 miles wide and over 500 metres deep.

How long to stay at Lake Toba?

To have time to relax and explore, your vacation at Lake Toba should be between 2 days and one week.

Can I swim in Lake Toba?

Yes. You can swim in Lake Toba. It is a freshwater lake with no fish farms. The government employs people to keep the lake clean and debris-free.

Are there ATMs on Samosir Island?

There are ATMs in Ambarita, Pangururan and Tuk Tuk in Samosir Island. However, they are sometimes known to be empty, so it’s best to bring plenty of cash with you. There are next to no card machines on the island.

Is the Wi-Fi good in Lake Toba?

The Wi-Fi is generally good at Lake Toba. Most hotels and guesthouses offer Wi-Fi in either the rooms or the communal areas.


Katie Treharne

Escape Artist Katie owner riding a yellow quad bike over former lava fields on Mount Mayon in the Philippines.

I’m Katie, the owner of Escape Artist Katie. I have been travel writing since 2018, including writing for luxury travel magazines and publications such as Wanderlust.

As well as being a digital nomad who works and lives abroad permanently, I’m a big advocate for offbeat travel and pushing yourself out of your comfort zone.

I hope you found my article useful – find out more about me here or keep up with my travels on Instagram.