At 905 meters above sea level, lies the largest volcanic lake in the world, Lake Toba. The 100km long, 30km wide lake was once before the crater of a supervolcano. Lake Toba is located in the center of North Sumatra which is Indonesia’s largest island. Generally, it is a less developed island than the famous touristy island of Bali or the busy island of Java. This makes it a bit tough to travel around Sumatra. On the contrary, you can find some of the most beautiful & untouched nature scenes there.
From a Digital Nomad point of view, it not one of the places that you can sustain a long-term Homebase. However, it is a beautiful place for a short-term stay. Lake Toba can be a perfect retreat since it is no more than a couple of hours flight away for Nomads based in Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, or Bali.
Getting there from Medan
The nearest airport to Lake Toba is Kuala Namu airport in Medan, the capital city of North Sumatra. It is not the most beautiful of cities at all. Despite that, there was still some sightseeing to do. The most common activity to do near Medan is the Bukit Lawang jungle trek where you can spot Orangutans. Other than this, there are a few attractions in the city. I have visited Maimoon Palace & Graha Maria Annai Velangkanni church which has a unique architecture inspired by Indo-Mogul architecture.
Finding the bus terminal was a bit tricky since Medan isn’t a very organized city. I used google maps to find the location and got there using South East Asia ride-hailing service, Grab.
On the Island
There are 2 main villages on the island where most of the hotels, guesthouses, and hostels are located. Those villages are Tuk-tuk & Tomok. The place I stayed at was Mas Cottages. My room faced the lake with a view of rainforest hills on the other side of the lake. Since I was there during the rainy season, I was lucky to occasionally have the view of rain above the hills on the other side of the lake.
Life is so quiet and chilled on Samosir island. Most of the time, there will be nothing to to after sunset except for chilling and socializing where you are staying.
What to do
Besides enjoying the nice vibe and the beautiful nature, there are many interesting places to see and activities to do. Here are a few of them:
1. A motorbike ride around the island
This was my top priority. It took me about 7 hours to loop around the island. This ride was my best experience since it lead me to places and stunning views that I would have never reached by booking tours or on foot.
There are a few waterfalls on Samosir island. I hiked up to Simangande Waterfall which was a truly tough hike. It is not one of the biggest waterfalls despite being quite an adventure to get there. The hike is nearly impossible to be done without a local guide leading the way. Finding a local guide won’t be a hard job since the villagers living at the bottom of the mountain will be glad to guide you up.
3. Local Markets
Each village has its local market. If you are a fan of traditional textiles, the Batak textiles have very nice patterns and can be easily found at any of the local shops.
4. Ambarita Stone Chair
In the village of Ambarita, the remains of a group of 300 years old stone chairs are the main attraction of the village. It is said that the stone chairs surrounded by several Batak houses and uniquely-looking statues served as a place where the village elders gathered to discuss important matters.
5. Hot Springs
The hot springs are located outside of the Panguruan area which is on the other side of the island from the famous village, Tuk-tuk. It is nice to visit despite the sulfuric smell and the extremely hot water.
For Digital Nomads!
My visit was in 2017 and it lasted for 11 days. The 4G coverage wasn’t so good at this time. The wifi in the hotels was good enough for sending and replying to emails, social media activities, voice calls & transferring small files. It was slow for transferring huge files or high-quality video calls. In my humble opinion, Lake Toba is a beautiful place to visit and see. It might be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. However, a long-term stay for Digital Nomads will be a challenge.
A few more pictures!
In the end, I will leave you with a few more pictures of some beautiful natural scenes from Lake Toba.