Imagine an island in the middle of a lake inside the crater of the largest volcano to ever erupt, an eruption which saw the world go dark for a year, and which saw ash fall on the streets of London, 8000 miles away.
All of that is ancient history, however, and today Lake Toba is one of the most peaceful, sublimely beautiful places on earth. As with everywhere in Indonesia, it invites you in and seduces you slowly, revealing mysteries to you every day which makes you want to stay just one-day longer…then another…and another!
Lake Toba really is something to behold. You get there by traveling North from Medan, the biggest city in Sumatra. Taking a shuttle bus up to the dock from Medan should cost around $6, or 80,000rb. You’ll get there in about 4 hours, but bring a clean pair of undershorts, because the roads and the drivers are an experience you aren’t likely to forget anytime soon.
Once you get to the port, it’s a simple 45-minute ferry ride to Samosir, the gorgeous island planted smack in the middle of the lake. This is a stunning place with plenty of adventure activities to keep you occupied if that’s your thing.
I stayed at Romlan , and I can’t recommend it highly enough. Brand new bungalows which cost $4 per night, and have an incredible vantage point over the lake itself. The bungalows sit right on the edge of the lake, and I could see the sunset from my balcony.
‘Samosir has something for everyone. If you prefer to just sit on your balcony in peace and quiet and unwind, that’s possible and plenty of people do so. If you want to do something a little more adventurous, take off on a motorbike tour of the island for about $15, which will last the entire day. Just talk to any of the local guys hanging around and they’ll set it up for you. They’re incredibly friendly people, and I set mine up when a long-haired, smiling guy from the area asked me for a lighter so he could spark his cigarette which had gone out.’
A tour of the island will reveal some unreal sights. The cool climate of North Sumatra gives it an entirely different feel from the rest of Indonesia. Pine trees are more common than palm trees, and there’s a very fresh, cool feel to the area. You’ll see tranquil lakes, old women with wicker baskets working in the fields, and have a chance to stop off and try some local delicacies at any of the homesteads and restaurants, usually someone who the tour guide knows, since the community is so interwoven and connected.
If you do decide to do an island tour, ask your guide to get you back by sunset, especially if you’re staying at Romlan. It’s one of the most unique sunsets I’ve seen to date, with the sky changing various shades of blue to purple to orange, and slowly to dark, deep blue then black before the stars begin to glimmer.
Toba suffered badly as a result of the Tsunami and Bali terror attacks in the past. The community relies on tourism and needs all the support it can get. This is, sadly, one of the most overlooked and missed out destinations in Indonesia, which is a shame because it is probably in the top three places in the entire country in terms of sublime natural beauty.
Smart travelers will spot an opportunity in that. Where else can you go that’s so fantastic, and where you’ll have the entire place virtually to yourself?