Swimming at Lake Toba, the Largest Lake in Indonesia

On November 24, 2015 by Novita Karana

Toba Lake view from  a far

Why do you have to visit Lake Toba?

Lake Toba is one of the awesome natural wonders of the world, located in my country, Indonesia. It’s the largest lake in southeast asia and one of the deepest lake in the world. And also you can learn about life and culture of Batak Tribe. I found myself so excited to hear the story that hundred years ago, the beheaded accused was eaten by the tribe. This fact made me visit Lake Toba in last April 2015. Standing at the execution place, hear the stories, and swimming at Lake Toba will be something awesome. And my bucket list to swim at Lake Toba was checked.

This is a crater lake so enormous and it has an island named Samosir in its centre. Samosir super volcano island has size. Lake Toba has size almost the same as Singapore at over 1,145 square kilometers, and a depth of 450 meters. This is made Lake Toba is actually more like an ocean.

Toba is a best place to come, to have yourself relax, sit back, 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 and all shits of the world melt away.

There’s also a myth about Lake Toba:

Once upon a time there was a young farmer whose name was Toba. One day, he felt like to eat fish so he went fishing at a river not far from his house. The river was usually rich with fish, but on that strange day he did not catch any fish for a long time, so he decided to just went home. Just as he was preparing to leave, his rod caught a big gold fish. As he lifted the fish, it suddenly talked. The fish cried and begged him to realease it.

Surprised to see a talking fish, he released it to the river, but suddenly the fish transformed into beautiful young woman. The young woman said that she was actually a princess cursed to be a fish. She thanked the young farmer for breaking her curse and to show her gratitute, she was willing to be his wife under the condition that the farmer should not tell anybody about her being a fish once or a terrible disaster would be fallen on him. So the farmer and the woman got married and after a while the woman gave birth to a baby boy.

One day the boy was asked to bring food to his father who was working on the field. But on the way, the boy ate up the food he carried. At the field, his father was very hungry and tired after working, but he found out there was no food left for him to eat. This made the farmer lost his temper and in anger, he called him a son of the fish.

Crying, the boy ran home and asked his mather if he really was a son of a fish. Shocked and sad to hear that, his mother told the boy to climb to the hill near their house. She herself hurried up to the river where he met the young farmer the first time and disappeared. The sky turned black and thunder and lightning roared and heavy rain fell onto the valley. The rain was so hard and so long that the valley began to be flooded. The water got higher and higher until the valley was no more. It had turned into a lake. People named the lake after the farmer, Toba. The hill became an island in the middle of the lake, and it was named Samosir Island. The son was believed to be the ancestor of Batak People of North Sumatera.

Lake Toba and Samosir Island are places to enjoy the legendary of Batak hospitality. Say cheers and enjoy some traditional palm wine called ‘tuak’ with the locals. You can asked the guide for best tuak, he knows better. For 1 litre tuak only costs Rp. 20.000,-. How the taste of tuak? I feel mix tastes: a little bit sweet, a little bit sour, a little bit bitter.

HowtoReachMedanfromJakartaThe Lake Toba RouteHow to get to Lake Toba? The best route is to visit Medan City first, the capital of North Sumatra as a gate to enter Lake Toba. From Medan you will driving to Parapat and cross Lake Toba to stay in Samosir Island, a super volcanic island in the centre of the lake. You also have a cheaper option, to stay in Parapat and do day trip to Samosir Island. But based on my friend’s testimony, she said the water in front of cottages in Parapat is not clean as the water in Samosir Island. That’s why i chose to stay in Samosir Island. And it feels cool stay in super volcano island.

Samosir Island is a popular tourist destination, where the tourist resorts are concentrated in the Tuktuk area. The island is the centre of the Batak culture and many of the Toba Batak traditional houses found on the island.

In my opinion, you need at least 4 Days 3 Nights to explore Lake Toba, Medan and beyond in depth. Check my map above to see the route. My arrangement itinerary was:
Day 1 : Jakarta – Medan Arrival.
DAY 2 : Medan – Pematangsiantar – Parapat Area – Crossing Lake Toba – Samosir Island.
Day 3 : Samosir Island – Parapat Area – Sipiso Piso Waterfall – Berastagi.
Day 4 : Berastagi – Medan Departure


And the detail of itinerary are:

Day 1 : Jakarta – Medan Arrival. Overnight in Medan.
From Jakarta to Medan, the convenience way to reach is by flight.
Morning flight always better for any trips, it will make you explore more.
I suggest to choose flight that arrive in Kualanamu Airport, Medan around 9AM, like:
Batik Air: CGK – KNO : 06:05AM – 08:25AM
Citilink: CGK – KNO : 06:55AM – 09:10AM
Lion Air: CGK – KNO : 07:00 – 09:20
Price around: IDR 650.000 – IDR 900.000/way/person, depends on your luck
Flight duration from Jakarta to Medan : 2 hours and 20 minutes.

Medan-City-TourIt takes 1 – 1,5 hours by car from Kualanamu airport to Medan City. Upon arrival, you can have lunch, and explore Medan City. You can start Medan City tour from:

– Visit Raya Medan Mosque

– Visit Maimoon Palace at Bridjen Katamso street near Mesjid Raya Mosque. You can dress up like an Indonesian king and queen. Unfortunately, when visit here, the palace was closed. The palace can be closed without prior notice.
Take a note of the visiting hour of Maimoon Palace:
Monday – Sunday: 8AM – 5PM
Friday :8AM-12PM and 2PM-5PM (There’s a 2 hours break for Friday prayer)
You can also see traditional live music performance at:
Monday – Friday: 10.30AM-12:00PM, 2PM-3.30PM
Saturday: 2PM-3.30PM
Sunday: 10AM-12PM

– Lunch at Tip Top Restaurant
Their homemade ice cream is my fav! My recommend ice cream:
Java Ice: coffee ice cream IDR 20.000 (April 2015)
Carmen Ice: home made ice cream with peanut sprinkle on top IDR 19.000 (April 2015)
Mexicanner Ice: Home made without peanut sprinkle  IDR 19.000 (April 2015)

– Visit Tjong A Fie Mansion>
Tjong A Fie Mansion is an old Chinese house in Dutch colonial era at Kesawan street ( across Tip Top Restaurant). Their operational hours: 9AM – 5PM everyday. with admission IDR35.000/person.
Merdeka Walk for culinary, open on evening


DAY 2 : Medan – Pematangsiantar City – Parapat Area – Crossing Lake Toba – Samosir Island.  Overnight in Samosir.
001-Lemang Culinary at Tebing Tinggi

After breakfast, you will continue your journey with driving to Pematangsiantar City for 3 – 3,5 hours.
I enjoy the view along the way. You will pass an area named Tebing Tinggi. Ask your driver to stop to taste Lemang, a culinary that made from sticky rice wrapped by banana leaf and put inside a bamboo and eat with sarikaya jam. Lemang food stall can be seen along the way.
002-Ganda Bread at PematangsiantarAfter 3 hours driving, you will arrive at Pematangsiantar City. Drop a visit to Ganda Bread Shop. Ganda has famous bread that named “roti oles” in Indonesian. The bread has 2 taste, and my favourite is bread with cream and sprinkle chocolate inside. Just buy a pack for snack to continue to Parapat Area.

Continue with 1 hour driving to Parapat Area. From Parapat, we will take boat to cross Toba Lake to Samosir Island. There’re 2 options of harbour to take boat trip:

003-Tiga Raja Harbour1) Tiga Raja Harbour
From Tiga Raja, you can choose your destination, whether Tomok Village or Tuk-Tuk Village. Tomok Village is famous for tombs of King Sidabutar. Tuk Tuk Village is a smaller village in a peninsula facing the Lake Toba. I suggest you to choose Tuk Tuk Village. It’s about an incredible view that facing Lake Toba.  A boat from Tiga Raja can fits for motorbike. You pay the ticket onboard. Just choose the best seat to enjoy the one hour trip cross Lake Toba. On my trip, we choose Tiga Raja Harbour to take boat to cross.
004-Boat from Parapat to Samosir IslandYou will enjoy the boat ride, since the traditional easy listening Batak song will accompany you during your trip.
We can asked the boat crew to stop in front of your cottage (if your cottage has access for boat). And, finally we arrived at our cottage and relax, while the car and driver is on the way. Car and driver took boat from Aji Bata Harbour, so they need more time because queuing vehicles.

2) Aji Bata Harbour
If you bring your car, there’s a car transporters boat at Aji Bata, but you should consider the time for queing vehicles to board to the boat, especially on the week end.
After check in, have a late lunch and refreshment, we were ready to explore three area of famous villages in Samosir Island: Tuk Tuk Village, Ambarita Village and Tomok Village.

006-TukTukVillageWater BuffaloTuk Tuk Village.
Tuk Tuk Village is a home for hundred homestay and cottages that facing Lake Toba. In this area, our cottage located. You will meet stray dogs around the Tuktuk Village, like picture above. In the evening on the way back from Tomok Village to our cottage, we saw water buffalo family. The mom a little bit angry when i tried to step closer to take photograph. Ok mom, just one photograph and i will get out :D

At night, we strolling around the Tuk Tuk area with car. You will meet some young sing and play guitar. Our guide said, if they sing and play guitar, it’s a little party and they usually already drunk by drink tuak :D




007-huta sialagan008-huta-sialagan-houseAmbarita Village.
You will be welcomed by gate with text written Huta Siallagan. Huta means village. Siallagan is the name of the King. And, welcome to Siallagan Village. Ambarita Village is well known for cultural site Stone Chair of King Siallagan. After enter the Siallagan Village, you will be greeted by magnificent line of Batak traditional houses on the left side.

009-StoneChair at Huta SiallaganIn the middle of the village, there’s a big tree and stone chairs + stone tables under it. This stone chairs and tables are proof that traditional Batak law is exist. A hundred years ago, the stone chairs and tables were used to trial and punishment for the accused.
When the accused found guilty, he would be beheaded on the spot. Then, executioner mutilated his body and gave it to local to be eaten. The King always got the accused’s heart and liver. There’s myth that you will got more strength after eat the accused’s meat. The head will be buried in a place far away from village and the body will be thrown to lake. This cannibalism had been completely stop when a German missionary named Ludwig Ingwer Nommensen came at the end of 19th century and spread the Christianity to the Siallagan with a gentle approach.

010-SigalegaleAcross of Trial Stone Chairs and Tables, you can meet Sigale Gale. Sigale Gale is a wooden puppet used in a funeral dance performance of Batak people. During the dance, the puppet is operated from behind like a marionette using strings that run through the ornate wooden platform on which it stands.

Traditionally the performance was carried out of childless person. Batak Toba believe souls become an ancestral spirit and the children of the deceased perform funerary rites. If a person died without child, so Sigale gale will be created as a substitute of the child. Sigale gale figure was originated from the legend of a childless woman named Nai Manggale, who on her deathbed, she instructed her husband to have a lifesize image made of herself to be called Sigale Gale and to have a song and played before it. Unless this request was done, her spirit would not be admitted to the abode of the dead, which would turn force her to put a curse on her surviving spouse. To avert this misfortune, the si gale-gale was created. Si gale-gale figures are either male or female, depending on the gender of the deceased.

At the right side, you can meet King Siallagan and his family tombstone with cross on the top which is located in the village area.



012 tomok villageTomok Village.
Next, we continue driving to Tomok Village.
We can discover tomb of King Sidabutar. His tomb is a main attraction of Tomok.
To reach the King Sidabutar’s tomb, you will find yourself walking for 5-10 minutes passed the souvenir shops line at the left and right side. They also sell ulos, a handmade woven fabric. The price of ulos starts from IDR 250.000 – IDR 5,000,000, depends on the quality.

Sidabutar TombThe King Sidabutar’s tomb located at the right side. The King was highly respected by local people. According to custom, when the king died, the body was not buried in the ground, but had a sarcophagus carved in stone, and placed at the centre of the village.

Lizard and 4 Breasts Ornament.
If your eyes are sharp, you will see 1 lizard that facing 4 breasts ornament in some place. Lizard is an animal that can be find everywhere, in every house. Batak Tribe hope they can be like a lizard, can ‘stick’ everywhere, though not in his hometown. The lizard ornament has meaning : Batak tribe who often go outside their hometown will be able to live and adapt to the new places.
The four breasts are meant to symbolise mother, who filled with elements of life, love, purity, and fertility. For Batak Tribe, mother is important and they put respect at their mother.
Lizard and four breasts also its position is always the same everywhere. The lizard always facing 4 breasts. This direction has meaning: the Batak people always remember and return to the homeland where their mother is.


005-TaboCottageAccommodation in Samosir Island.
In Samosir Island, i stayed in Tabo Cottages, a nice cottage with natural style with direct access to Lake Toba, runs by Annete Horschmann and family. I met Annete in person. Her Indonesian Language is very fluent. Annete said, majority non domestic people stayed in Tabo. The guests love the serenity and peaceful atmosphere where The Tabo Cottages can give.

I stayed in fan deluxe room with garden view. I was feel cold in the night and used blanket, so no need aircon. If you have more budget, you should choose Toba suites, a stunning old Batak houses with luxury facilities like a mini bar and a tea kettle and super relaxing furnishing. They are easily turned into family units since they have two levels to sleep on, one on the bottom and another one on the loft with panorama view. The breakfast buffet was fabulous. Their coffee was perfect. And don’t forget to try their German bakery. And i feel i need more than one night to enjoy Lake Toba and Samosir Island.


Day 3 : Samosir Island – Parapat Area – Sipiso Piso Waterfall –  Berastagi. Overnight in Berastagi
Good morning Lake Toba! Stay in Taboo Cottage made me wake up in the morning. I can’t wait to jump to Lake Toba and swimming at the largest lake in Indonesia. How was it feel? Awesome! I felt swimming in the sea, not lake. And i spent hour to sit and relax at the wooden chair, doing nothing and see the magical lake. Some stray dogs came to our cottage. They are cute and hungry. The village also has 2 dogs. and they become friends. I hope on my next visit i can still meet them. Because Batak Tribe eat dogs :(

Swimming at Lake TobaYou can do water activity such as jet ski and banana boat. And then, come the hardest moment, we had to leave Samosir Island and continue our journey to Medan City with a stop at Berastagi. We were waiting our boat in front of Tabo Cottages. I will stay at least for 2 nights on my next visit. One night is too short. I want to have one day at the cottage, swimming, and relax at the wooden chair. Tabo Cottage also suits for family, they have children area at the garden.

For boat schedule from Samosir (Tuk Tuk Village)  to Parapat (Tiga Raja),  you can ask the receptionist. Sometime they change the schedule. You can request the receptionist the day before. The boat will pick you at in front of your hotel. Ten minutes before the boat arrived, we have to be ready. If not, you will miss your boat. Our driver guide and car already left Samosir Island around 7AM. Because he had to queuing for vehicle to go to the ferry. If you rent a car from Medan City, it’s better to ask your driver to leave first in the morning by ferry to Ajibata Harbour, and you can leave with boat to TigaRaja Harbour later.014CamelHillfish statueOn the way back, we chose another route: left route (you can check the map above) so we had a change to explore new place. After arrive at Parapat, we stop by at the spot where you can see camel hill and next stop is to see gold fish statue. Our guide said that the big fish was plan to become a restaurant, but the restaurant never happen. And now the fish become abandoned building in the middle of the hill.

013SimarjarunjungNext, we continue our journey to Simarjarunjung Hill. We stop for 30 minutes, for toilet stop, relax our body, have bandrek, tea, coffee and snack. You have option to enjoy your snack time while watching the scenery or inside the restaurant. Bandrek is a traditional hot, sweet and spicy beverage. Bandrek suits for people who live in the cool, highlands area. They consume bandrek to warm themselves at night and during cold weather. This hot beverage is made of a mixture of ginger essence, palm sugar and cinnamon.

Bolon-HouseNext, we continue our journey to Traditional House Bolon at Pematang Purba Area. Bolon is a traditional house of Batak Simalungun, comes from North Sumatra. Bolon is a symbol of the identity of the Batak people who live in North Sumatra. Long time ago, Bolon is a palace for 13 kings who live in North Sumatra. The 13 king names are written inside the house. Bolon is one of Indonesian culture that must be preserved. Bolon house has a height of land approximately 1.75 meters from the ground. House floor Bolon made of boards and roof of the house Bolon made of palm fiber or leaf thatch. The inside of the house Bolon is a large room that is not divided over the room.
Restaurant at Sipiso pISO
Next, another city to visit is Berastagi, a cool city. It takes 2,5 hours to reach Berastagi from Parapat, with a stop at Sipiso Piso Waterfall. We had a late lunch at Sipiso Piso Waterfall area. There’s a halal restaurant near the parking area.
We had lunch at Moslem Restaurant named ONS HUIS with red banner.

SipisoPisoSipiso Piso Waterfall is  one of many wonderful waterfalls in Sumatera with 120 meters height, located between Parapat and Berastagi. Sipiso Piso Waterfall is a must visit. You can see magnificent scenery of The Switzerland of North Sumatera like my picture above from this spot. If you wish, you can trek down with hundred steps to see the waterfall from short distance. But i didn’t do it cause i only had limited time to explore the next destination: Berastagi.

015BerastagiNext, continue to Berastagi. Berastagi which has a meaning of “rice store” is ahighlands of Northern Sumatra with 1,300 meters above sea level. Since Berastagi is a cool town, so all hotels don’t have air conditioner. You will look for blanket before start your dream. Berastagi is center of colourful fruits and vegetable market. So a stop at fruit and vegetable market is a must.

The main attractions of this town are the two active volcanoes; Mount Sibayak with its hot springs, and Mount Sinabung. Each mountain can be climbed in one day, but a guide is needed.

We had dinner at family Moeslem restaurant named H. Ramli. NST Berastagi.
The address : Merdeka 37, Phone (0628) 93383 Berastagi.
Cost for 4 persons: IDR268.000. We ordered :
30 fried tofu (recommended while you’er waiting the main course) @IDR2000
4 rice @7000
1 portion of bean sprouts @IDR20.000
1 broccoli @IDR20.000
1 portion of spicy chicken @IDR72.000
1 portion of Nila (Nile Tilapia) fish with tauco sauce @IDR50.000
4 hot tea @IDR2000
1 ginger tea @IDR10.000

LumbiniBerastagi also has Lumbini Nature Park that you have to visit. Lumbini Park is a Buddhist temple located at Desa Dolat Rayat, Berastagi. This park is a replica of Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon, Myanmar.  The main building’s architecture is similar to a Thai pagoda, covered in gold. The pagoda was successfully completed in 2010. It is 46.8 meters in height and 68 meters in length with colourful flags hanging around it. The replica is the second highest among pagodas outside of Myanmar. This replica consists of: 1 unit Large Pagoda, 8 units Small Pagodas, 1 unit Ashoka Pillar, and 4 units Sakyamuni Buddha Statue made from the green Jade of Myanmar.

To enter the building, you need to take off shoes. Taking pictures with other means than camera is not allowed in there. Inside the building you can pray with dupa and candle. There’s no entrance fee to enter the pagoda, also there’s no parking fee. The pagoda not taking entrance fee from people, but the place is really taken care by the temple management as it seem. However you can donate your money to the box inside the temple.

Behind the temple it has one of the best vegetarian restaurant in the town named Golden Lotus Lumbini, that you can try. The restaurant still close when we visit the pagoda.

Strolling around the golden pagoda, and i found Love Bridge at the right side.  This Love Bridge was built with the purpose to become facilitating of mobilization of employees and visitors of Lumbini Park. For visitors who want to try Love Bridge, they kindly expected not to cross the bridge in a large number of people. The maximum number that the bridge can support is 10 persons. So, take your time and be patience to try the bridge.

To be note:
Operational hour for visitors: 9AM – 5PM
Operational hours for prayers: 9AM-6PM
Sunday and public holiday, the golden pagoda only for those who want to pray. Other visitors can’t enter the pagoda.

GrandMutiara-Hotel-BerastagiRecommend accommodation in Berastagi:
1) Mikie Holiday Resort. I passed this hotel and i felt their rooms are newer than Grand Mutiara.
And Mikie has rank #1 in Tripadvisor.
2) Grand Mutiara. I stayed in this hotel.
Note: nice room, nice garden. Breakfast buffet was good with so many choices. The breakfast room is on ground who has no elevator, so you have to take stairs. If you travel with elder people, don’t choose this hotel.

Day 4 : Berastagi – Medan Departure
From Berastagi to Medan, it takes 2 – 3 hours driving.
Last flight or evening flight always the best option if you go travelling, so you can do Medan culinary before back to your hometown.
I suggest to choose evening flight, like:
Batik Air: KNO – CGK : 8PM – 10:20PM
Lion Air: KNO – CGK : 8:10PM – 10:35PM
Citilink: KNO – CGK : 8:25PM – 10:40PM
Price around: IDR 650.000 – IDR 900.000/way/person, depends on your luck.
Flight duration from Medan to Jakarta : 2 hours and 20 minutes.

So, after have your breakfast, continue the journey to Medan City. If you choose evening flight, you can take your time to enjoy the fresh air and atmosphere at your hotel.

Gereja_Velangkani_MedanIf you have time, you can make a visit to Annai Velangkanni Church, a Catholic Shrine with Tamil Hindu-style architecture. From Tip Top restaurant, it takes 1 hour to get there. The address : Jl. Sakura III No. 7-10, Perumahan Taman Sakura Indah, Tanjung Selamat, Sumatera Utara

End your visit by buy famous culinary like cake and durian pancake for your loved one at Meranti Cake. The cake has many flavours and it’s very delicious.

If you need Lake Toba arrangement trip, you can contact me at bigelbandel@gmail.com :)

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