Photo: Lake Toba is big, very big.


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Lake Toba (Danau Toba in Indonesian) is the largest volcanic lake in the world, formed by a cataclysmic eruption around 70,000 years ago. That eruption shrouded the earth in a blanket of ash for years and led to the cooling of the planet. Today, the lake is a calm, picturesque body of water surrounded by towering mountains and a favourite resting place on the backpacker circuit.

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In the centre of Lake Toba is exotic Samosir Island (Pulau Samosir), where most foreign visitors choose to stay. Pulau Samosir is 44 kilometres long and 20 kilometres wide, making it one of the largest lake islands in the world. Running along the centre of the island is a mountain range that comes to life after rain with raging waterfalls and swirling clouds, all visible from the lakeside town of Tuk-Tuk.

Tuk-Tuk is by far the most popular tourist destination on the island and is home to countless budget accommodation options, mainly due to the immense popularity of the island during the late 80s right through until the late 90s, when a combination of political upheaval in Indonesia and the introduction of stringent visa rules smashed local tourism – it has never recovered.

Classic Toba.

Classic Toba.

Tuk-Tuk is on the east side of Pulau Samosir, directly across the lake from Parapat, the main ferry port on the mainland. On the west side of Pulau Samosir is the town of Pangururan, another transport hub for those wishing to try their luck along the remote west coast of Sumatra. The interior of Pulau Samosir is sparsely populated and ripe for exploration by motorcycle, with only the town of Dolok having any semblance of development.

A ring road circles the island and these days it is in good condition for almost the entire way, meaning it is possible to circumnavigate the island in one full day. A decade ago this would have been extremely difficult due to poor road conditions.
Classic lines.

Classic lines.

The best part about Lake Toba is that it’s incredibly relaxing. A combination of the pleasant Batak Toba people, a temperate climate, stunning scenery and little in the way of tourist attractions make this a great stop when travelling through Sumatra. For those wanting to explore the island, it’s highly recommended that you rent a motorbike to explore and learn about the local culture.

Facilities on the island aren’t developed and you’ll probably never see the police, but a small health clinic in the middle of Tuk-Tuk can patch up cuts and bruises. If you’re seriously ill, the nearest hospital is in Kabanjahe, many hours away.
Classic Sumatra.

Classic Sumatra.

Despite limited infrastructure on the island, most guesthouses these days have broadband WiFi services good enough for most things except Skype. 3G on the island is also quite reasonable in the main towns.


What next?

 Browse our independent reviews of places to stay in and around Lake Toba.
 Check prices, availability & reviews on Agoda or Booking
 Read up on where to eat on Lake Toba.
 Check out our listings of things to do in and around Lake Toba.
 Read up on how to get to Lake Toba.
 Do you have travel insurance yet? If not, find out why you need it.
 Planning on riding a scooter in Lake Toba? Please read this.
 Browse the web securely while travelling with TunnelBear. Try with a 7–day free trial.

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