Falling in love with Lake Toba, Sumatra


Introducing my new favourite place to do absolutely nothing. 

Lake Toba has been part of traveller folklore for decades: the largest volcanic lake in the world, one so enormous that an island almost the size of Singapore sits in its centre. It’s hands-down the best place I have ever been to chill out, but it wasn’t always so peaceful.

The lake itself is the site of a massive supervolcanic eruption that occurred 75,000 years ago. This is actually the biggest known explosive eruption on Earth in the last 25 million years, and according to one theory, had global consequences for human populations: killing most people living at that time. Ouch. Luckily for us though, the human population still remains, as does the incredible lake that was formed in the aftermath.

I normally get itchy feet when I’m travelling and want to move on after 3 or 4 nights in one location, but this place was different. I could easily spend a month here, just doing nothing, sitting, writing. I think a large part of my love for the place was because of where I stayed and the people I met there. Mas Cottages really is the best place to stay in Lake Toba, and I look forward to the day I return. I cannot recommend this place highly enough, and it is worthy of its 94% rating on Tripadvisor.


Lake toba sumatra mas cottages

The balcony of my room. Opening your door to this every morning = wow.

A walk in the hills. Exploring on foot or by bicycle.

Motorbike or scooter is the way to get about when you are on Samosir island. You’ll cover more ground and have access to more remote spots. But while this is all well and good, you often are travelling too quickly to appreciate hidden alcoves and deserted lanes. I travelled both ways – by motorbike and by bicycle – and found I was more ready to jump off my bicycle at any point, dump it behind a fence and go exploring.

On one occasion I cycled out of Tuk Tuk towards Tomok and after ditching my bike by the side of the road found myself walking among cows in rolling hills in complete silence.

Lake toba, sumatra

It’s worth getting off the road and just walking where things look interesting. There are no paths, just fields.


Lake Toba, Sumatra

I met this woman who had been foraging for berries in the fields opposite. She was on her way back to her house in the distance.

Lake Toba, Sumatra

Off she goes…

Lake Toba, Sumatra

A traditional Batak house in the middle of nowhere, huge mountainside waterfall in the background. Location, location, location.

Lake Toba, Sumatra

The Toba region of Sumatra is populated by the Bataks who are predominantly Christian. You’ll find random churches and religious sites scattered all over the place.

Lake toba sumatra

I found two water buffalo chilling out in their very own infinity pool overlooking the lake!



And this is actually the house belonging to the little woman from earlier.

A ride in the hills. Exploring by motorbike.

Like I said, to access the more remote parts of Samosir and really get a feeling of the sense of scale of Lake Toba, you need to rent a motorbike. From high up this really is an epic part of the world: hill stations with local people selling hot Sumatran coffee, eagles flying overhead. It doesn’t get much better.

Lake Toba Sumatra

Drinking freshly ground coffee straight from the plantations nearby. Up here it is completely still.


Lake Toba Sumatra

To illustrate the sheer size of this lake, and the surrounding crater, that tiny speck below on the water is a passenger ferry. It reminds me of the fjords of Norway.

Lake Toba Sumatra

Crested serpent eagle in flight



Lake Toba is extremely busy during New Year, be warned! I got there on 21st December and had no problem walking into a place, but one week later when I was in Bukit Lawang I heard from a waitress that virtually every guest house was full. The ferry from Parapart to Samosir is 10,000 rupiah, departing every hour from 8.30am.

The weather here is cool but pleasant, but if you’re used to hot temperatures remember to bring a jacket. Change all the money that you will need before you leave Medan as the exchange rate can be poor in the Toba area.

lake toba sumatra


  1. Morina Sinaga

    Helo, im Morina Sinaga. Female, 21 years old. Im a Bataks girl. I love your notes, pics and videos about Lake Toba. I live in Laguboti, also near Lake Toba. Love that when you said you’re fall in love with Lake Toba eventhough you’re just sitting and writing only.
    I like how you describe this beautiful place, but i think you have to eat our traditional foods. May Mas cottage served it for you, but trust me, its not original taste. Like Naniura, Tombur and Arsik. I think you’ll surprised, that not only Japan have the ‘sushi’ cause ‘Naniura’ also is our sushi in Batak 🙂
    I wish you read and reply this. Ahh, im just Retweet your tweet about this blog with @MorinaSinaga. Thanks.

  2. Hi Morina, thanks so much for your message! Yes, Lake Toba is amazing, I want to go back someday – maybe when I do you can show me good places to eat haha. I have some more posts about Sumatra to come so please check back on the blog soon! Thanks again, from Tokyo 😀

  3. Jess

    Hi Joostay, my name is Jess and I’m planning on travelling to Indonesia with my boyfriend in June (if you’re in the area at this time, we should meet up!). We want to travel to places that are still relatively untouched, would you recommend Lake Toba? It looks beautiful and peaceful and I know my boyfriend wants to meet more locals than tourists. Thanks in advance for any tips you may have!

  4. Morina Sinaga

    @joostay : 🙂 with my pleasure. And maybe i’ll ask my mom to serve you our traditional food. Ahh, okey, dont worry. Its clear. No metal. Haha. Kidding

    @jess : hi, im Morina. If you ask and look for peacely place, yeah, you’re right to come over here. Indonesia. But not in the cities. Come over here and ask t’he citizen about untouchly and uncrowd place 🙂 indonesia have it all.. 🙂

  5. Rico Hutahaean

    I am so glad that you are falling in love with lake toba. And i really like all your posts about north sumatra.
    I have watched your video in lake toba, i love when you interact with the local people, drink coffee together..hahahahaha that was so nice. Now you looks like a bataknese heheheheh…..
    As a bataknese i was very touched by this blog, thank u fo sharing your beautiful experience.
    Fyi, there are more destinations in north sumatra besides bukit lawang, brastagi and lake toba.
    Some great destinations are:
    Nias islands (this islands were so famous for the wave, this the great place for surfing),
    Mursala island (i heard from my fren, that ‘kingkong’ the movie was shooted in this place)
    Tangkahan (elephant washing)
    Pelaruga (teroh teroh waterfall, this is the new hidden paradise in north sumatera, which was founded about one year ago)
    I hope you will tell all about your experience to all of your frens and family, and hope you will come back again to our place and explore all the beauty of north sumatra..

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  8. Erna

    Hello Joo , love your blog about lake toba and etc …your way to connect with local people and their daily life ,
    hope one day u can visit another Batak island “Berastagi ” 🙂
    Fill happy to be your coachsurfing when you come to my home town “Berastagi”


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  11. Robert Stewart

    Great blog. I am going to lake toba in August, only a few weeks away. It will be my 2nd visit to Sumatra, but first time to north Sumatra, medan, berastagi and Toba. I am very excited. Everywhere online and on youtube, it looks like the perfect vacation spot for me.

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