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[GUIDE] Things to do in Lake Toba, what to eat and where to stay in 4 days

[GUIDE] Things to do in Lake Toba, what to eat and where to stay in 4 days

This article contains affiliate links. If you click and make a purchase I will make a commission at no extra cost to you. This article was first published on June 30, 2016 and updated in February 2018.

Lakes, mountains, waterfalls, rainforests—the North Sumatra region of Indonesia is the nature paradise few have heard of. With an area size of almost 7.3 million hectares, there’s no shortage of tropical splendour to be found here.

North Sumatra is the site of Earth’s largest known supervolcano eruption in at least 25 million years. It spewed out ashes reaching as far as Africa and left behind a huge crater twice the size of Singapore, which became known as Lake Toba today. The massive eruption has also reshaped the region into a province of beautiful highlands 13.5 million people call home. Read on for our guide to Lake Toba, including things to do in Medan, Berastagi, Tongging and Parapat.




Day 0 in Medan

Airport – Medan

If you arrive the night before, you can stay for one night at Medan around Kesawan region and have your dinner at Merdeka Walk. Merdeka Walk offers diverse food choices such as durian pancake, oxtail soup, tom yum, Padang satays, nasi lemak (fragrant rice), fried rice, etc. As a hip hangout place with open-air concept, Merdeka Walk really comes alive at night.

Take an early rest so that you’re prepared to start the adventure tomorrow!

Day 1 in Medan

Medan/Airport – Berastagi

If you arrive in the morning of the actual trip, try to arrive in Kuala Namu Airport around 8–9 am.

10am: Let the road trip begin!

Try to start the journey before 10 am. From here, it’ll take at least 2 hours if you start off from the airport and 1.5 hours if you start from Medan city centre before your first stop.

Drive out of Medan via Jamin Ginting street until you reach the small urban community of Bandar Baru.

12.30pm: Brunch at Rumah Makan Sehati (permanently closed)

Minangkabau cuisine

Minangkabau cuisine. Source: Sakurai Midori

Have brunch at Rumah Makan Sehati, which serves Minangkabau ethnic cuisine originating from the West Sumatra highlands. The ingredients are characterized by santan (coconut milk) and chilli sauces. Presented in their traditional style, the waiter will serve all dishes into the table and you’ll pay only for those which you eat. Expect to pay around Rp. 30,000–75,000 per person.

Rumah Makan Sehati’s specialties are ayam pop (fried chicken) and kari kambing (lamb curry).

Jamin Ginting Street no.19
Open daily 11am
11pm

3pm: Berastagi Fruit Market

Heroic Monument

Heroic Monument. Source: Ken Marshall

After the brunch, continue through Jamin Ginting street for 40 minutes until you hit the Tugu Perjuangan (Heroic Monument) roundabout. This monument was built right at the centre of Berastagi in 1945 to commemorate the heroes who have fought for Indonesia’s independence.

At the right side of the monument is Pasar Buah Berastagi (Berastagi Fruit Market). Blessed with fertile volcanic soil, agriculture is a way of life for the 44,765 people who live in Berastagi. Local produces are usually shipped to Singapore, Malaysia, Taiwan and the rest of Indonesia.

Passion Fruit

Passion Fruit. Source: DEZALB

Take the opportunity to indulge in exotic tropical fruits like markisa (passion fruit), rambutans, mangosteens, star fruits, pineapples, papayas, avocados and durians—fresh from the source! You can’t just find fruits, there are also lush vegetables and beautiful flowers.

5pm: Gundaling Hill

Mount Sibayak

Mount Sibayak. Source: swifant

From the fruit market, drive through Gundaling street for around 10 minutes and you’ll reach the gate to enter Gundaling Hill (Rp. 3,000 per person). Gundaling is an excellent recreational area to view the two icons of Berastagi, Mount Sinabung in the West and Mount Sibayak in the North, towering over quaint traditional villages and green rainforests.

You can take a leisure stroll around Gundaling Hill, drive the car up or ride a horse for around Rp. 100,000 per hour. Sunset time in Berastagi is usually around 6.30pm, so make sure you get a nice spot with a clear Sinabung view before then.

Mount Sinabung as seen from Gundaling Hill

Mount Sinabung as seen from Gundaling Hill. Source: Kenrick95

While Sibayak demonstrates high geothermal activity, the calm Sinabung is believed to be “dormant” by scientists for at least four centuries. Yet without any warning signs, Sinabung has been regularly erupting again since 2010. It’s an unusual mystery and the locals consider Sinabung to be Mount Toba’s “child”.

7pm: Dinner at Pasar Kaget

After sunset, drive 15 minutes down to Veteran street. You will find a lot of shop tents set up along the street sides, turning it into a small night market called Pasar Kaget.

Bandrek

Bandrek. Source: Midori

When considering where to eat in Lake Toba, this is the place. Must-eat here is nila bakar (grilled Tilapia fish; costs around Rp. 25,000 per fish). For drink, try the local pride known as bandrek (costs around Rp. 5,000–7,000 per glass). Made by combining ginger, cinnamon, brown sugar and occasionally milk, bandrek is popular in Indonesian highlands due to the strong effect of ginger in combating cold mountainous weather.

Nila bakar and bandrek are sold at most shops along Veteran street.

Day 2 in Berastagi

8am: Breakfast at Warung Wajik & Pecal Bahagia

Located at Jamin Ginting street no. 7-11, this tavern offers light cuisine originating from a small Berastagi village called Peceren.

Pecel Hariadhi

Pecel. Source: Hariadhi

As the name suggests, you should absolutely try wajit (a confectionary made from sticky rice and brown sugar; costs Rp. 1,250 per piece) and pecel (mixed vegetables in peanut sauce; costs Rp. 12,000 per plate).

10am: Scenic drive to Tongging

After the breakfast, drive for about 1.5 hours until you reach the fishing village of Tongging. By far one of the most beautiful things to see in Lake Toba.

Lake Toba view from Tongging

Lake Toba view from Tongging. Source: Bangbeni

Picturesque green hills will keep you company throughout the whole ride, and as you descend down to the fishing village, you will be greeted with a magnificent view of Lake Toba from the Northern side. Picture this: the mountains surrounding the lake are actually the inner caldera wall of an ancient supervolcano!

Lake Toba itself has an average depth of 500 metres, length of 62 miles and width of 19 miles—making it the world’s largest volcanic lake.

12pm: Lunch at Tongging Fishing Village

On the lakeside, you will find many water cottages which are actually restaurants selling freshly caught fish. The fish is raised on floating nets and they will catch your orders live! One of the most popular restaurants is RM Sabar Hita, look out for the signage!

Try the grilled gourami and grilled ikan mas (carp / gold fish). Expect to pay around Rp. 50,00060,000 per kg.

After the lunch, take your time to soak in the scenic view and walk around the lake side a little before continuing to journey.

2.30pm: Sipiso Piso Waterfall

Sipiso Piso Waterfall view

Sipiso Piso Waterfall view. Source: Ronald Tagra

Drive back up from the road you came from and turn left at an intersection after around 10 minutes. You will reach the Sipiso Piso Waterfall area, one of the best places in Lake Toba area. 

The word “piso” means knife—the 120-metre height waterfall is named as such because it looks like a blade piercing into the lush greenery from afar. You’ll need to pay entrance fee of Rp. 5,000 and walk leisurely around 20 minutes down through the steps, but the getting wet experience is amazing! And no, you don’t even have to stand under the waterfall to get drenched. The fall is just so strong it sprinkles water everywhere.

Sipiso Piso Waterfall

Sipiso Piso Waterfall.  Source: Ismail Rahmat Batubara

Once you’re done, walk up the steps for around 40 minutes, dry yourself with a clean towel and change to new clothes.

5.30pm: Taman Simalem Resort

Drive around 30 minutes through Sidikalang street until you reach Taman Simalem Resort (entrance costs Rp. 500,000 per car).

Once you enter the resort, drive to the Pearl of Lake Toba area (see no. 47 on the resort map) for an incredible Lake Toba viewpoint. Enjoy your time until the 6.30pm sunset.

After sunset, drive to Pengambatan Café area (no. 14 on the resort map) for a 24-hour diner serving Asian and Western-style food. You can dine indoor or alfresco while enjoying nature’s sound from a nearby stream. Expect to pay around Rp. 50,000-100,000 per person.


Day 3 in Tongging

6am:  Sunrise at Taman Simalem Resort

Sunrise at Lake Toba

Sunrise at Lake Toba. Source: Tanti Ruwani

If you stay at Taman Simalem Resort the night before, wake up early and arrive at One Tree Hill (see resort map) for a spectacular sunrise. Check the sunrise times with the staff beforehand, it could be between 6am and 6.30am.

9am: Jungle Trekking

After a quick rest, you can book a guided tour with Taman Simalem Resort to trek through the Sumatran jungle to see the sight of twin waterfalls from 9-11am (see details). The 9am trek is not available during Wednesday, Friday or Saturday, in which case a farmland trek with a lake view from 9.30-11am can be an alternative (see details). The treks are free for resort guests, Rp. 35,000 for visitor.

11am: Brunch at Kodon Kodon Café

After the trekking, rest for an hour at Kodon Kodon Café right outside of the trail. Kodon Kodon Café serves traditional Indonesian fare such as oxtail soup, chicken curry, fried rice, fried vermicelli, chicken meatball soup and gado gado (Indonesian salad with peanut sauce dressing). Expect to pay around Rp. 25,000-70,000 per person.

Ready to get moving? Then start the 2.5 hour scenic drive to the town of Parapat.

3pm: Arriving in Parapat

Parapat is the most developed out of all Lake Toba towns and it’s a favourite weekend getaway for Medanese. The town is also the gateway to Samosir Island, the world’s largest island within an island, which is roughly the same size as Singapore. As many as 95,238 people live in Samosir Island, the majority of which are of Bataknese.

Head to Tigaraja Jetty and board their 3.45pm ferry to Tomok (see schedule). The journey takes about 30 minutes and it costs Rp. 5,000.

4.30pm: Exploring Tomok

Traditional Batak house

Traditional Batak house. Source: Hipponite

Tomok is an exemplary Batak village showcasing the indigenous group’s unique architecture. Batak Toba houses are formed in small groups of ten or less. Due to frequent wars among tribes in the past, the houses are built side by side with the front facade facing the street. The cultural houses can be found along the Sigale Gale and Museum Batak area, which is within 10-minute walking distance from Tomok jetty.

Museum Batak & Sigale Gale

A typical Sigale Gale dance performance

A typical Sigale Gale dance performance. Source: Dan Lundberg

Other than exploring the tribal houses, you can also choose to either go inside the Museum Batak or watch the Sigale Gale performance. Museum Batak showcases traditional handicrafts, fabrics, wooden sculptures, ancient equipments and armories free of charge.

Sigale Gale is a life-sized wooden doll and is believed to be the reincarnation of Manggale, son of King Rahat. Upon Manggale’s death in a war, a puppet was made to console King Rahat. After the king’s death, the puppet was found dancing by itself beside his father’s grave. It has since become a local tradition to perform Sigale Gale dancing performance during Batak funerals to revive the dead. The making of the wooden doll is complex—the threads utilized to move the doll emulate the actual human nervous system!

The 1-hour performance costs Rp. 5,000-10,000 per person. If there’s no other visitors, you’ll have to pay the full price of Rp. 80,000.

6.30pm: Cruise back to Parapat during sunset

View of Parapat

View of Parapat. Source: MTC Group

Take the last return ferry at 6.30pm and enjoy the sunset as you cruise back to Parapat’s Tigaraja Jetty.

7.30pm: Dinner at Rumah Makan Islam Murni

Drive to Haranggaol street No. 15. Try the Batak dish known as arsik ikan mas (gold fish / carp in andaliman sauce). Other nice dishes include rendang (spicy meat dish), tempe goreng (fried soybean), peyek (crispy cracker with peanuts) and sayur lodeh (vegetables in coconut milk). Price ranges between Rp. 8,000-100,000.

Day 4 in Parapat 

10.30am: Brunch at Pematang Siantar

Try to leave before 8.30am and drive for around 1.5 hours to reach Pematang Siantar, North Sumatra’s second largest city after Medan. As many as 240,787 people live here, mostly Simalungun Batak and Chinese people.

Stop at Mie Pangsit Awai on Surabaya street No. 21A to sample their mie keriting (curly wanton noodle), which is the city’s specialty. The meat broth soup is especially savoury! To drink, don’t forget to try a locally-made soda called Badak. It’ll cost you around Rp. 12,000-17,000.

Teng Teng peanuts candy

Teng Teng peanuts candy. Source: Midori

Finally, head to Merdeka street No. 85/87 to buy the locals’ favourite food souvenir. A1 Asli offers many good snacks, but the most popular ones are Teng-Teng (peanut candy), Ak-Am (peanut candy sprinkled with sesame seeds), Tac-Tac (egg crisp) and Pic-Pac (coconut crisp).

12pm: Drive to airport

At 12pm, leave Pematang Siantar city towards Kuala Namu Airport. Assuming no traffic jam, the trip will take around 3 hours.

To be safe, try to get a night return flight to Singapore. If your flight is earlier than 6pm, you may need to leave Parapat really early in the morning.

If your flight is before 2.30pm, you may need to drop Parapat from your itinerary altogether. After Taman Simalem Resort trekking on Day 3, you can head back via Berastagi and overnight at Medan, so that the next day you can head to Kuala Namu Airport (around 1-1.5 hours driving from Medan) with peace of mind.

Indonesia has so much to offer – check out our Bandung and Medan itineraries!




Places to stay in Medan

If you want to answer the question where to stay in Lake Toba, there are a few options to choose from. The first being Medan. All hotels are located nearby the city centre and their staff speaks English. Prices listed are based on average rates for a Standard Room.

HotelType of accomRating on TripadvisorPrice per nightMore Photos & Availability
Hotel KesawanBudget3S$20

d`primahotel MedanBudget4S$35

Hermes Palace HotelMid3,5S$45

Hotel Santika Premiere DyandraMid4S$52

Aryaduta MedanMid4S$60

Grand Swiss-Belhotel MedanMid4S$60

Hotel Deli RiverMid4,5S$60

JW Marriott Hotel MedanHigh4,5S$87

Affordable

Hotel Kesawan room

Hotel Kesawan room

Hotel Kesawan is located right at the heart of the city and just a few steps away from Tjong A Fie Mansion, thus making it a convenient location for just SGD$20.

Mid-range

Hermes palace Hotel room

Hermes palace Hotel room

Hermes Palace Hotel offers stylish rooms with amenities such as fitness centre, concierge service and shuttle service. Guests can also visit Sirocco Moonlight Bistro for an evening of live music and refreshing beverages at the hotel’s rooftop.

Price range: SGD$45-65.

Luxury

JW Marriott Hotel Medan suite

JW Marriott Hotel Medan suite

JW Marriott Hotel Medan is the first 5-star hotel in Medan. It offers contemporary furnishings, luxurious bedding, flat-panel TVs and iPod docks. Hotel guests can access the 24-hour fitness centre and outdoor pool, as well as rejuvenate at Quan Spa. The hotel also houses three restaurants serving international buffet, Cantonese cuisine and steaks.

Price range: SGD $85-150

Places to stay in Berastagi

All hotels are located within 15-minute drive to city centre and their staff speaks English. Prices listed are based on average rates for a Standard Room.

HotelType of accomRating on TripadvisorPrice per nightMore Photos & Availability
Serdika PavilionBudget4S$28

Sibayak International HotelMid3S$48

Mikie Holiday ResortMid4S$79

Affordable

Serdika Pavilion

Serdika Pavilion

Serdika Pavilion is a simple guest house located among the cool surroundings of Gundaling Hill just 15 minutes walk away from Berastagi city centre.

Price range: SGD$20-35.

Mid-range

Mikie Holiday Resort

Mikie Holiday Resort

Mikie Holiday Resort is popular among Medanese as it offers access to a recreational theme park called Funland. Other amenities include free breakfast, free wifi, outdoor swimming pool and karaoke lounge.

Price range: SGD$55-140.

Mid-range

Sibayak Internasional Hotel

Sibayak Internasional Hotel

Sibayak Internasional Hotel is a 4-star hotel providing facilities such as Toba Lounge, Galaxy Pub, Romeo Karaoke, outdoor swimming with whirlpool, massage, billiard, table tennis, etc. There are no luxury options in Berastagi, but this comes close. Price range: $50-420.

Places to stay in Tongging

Affordable

If you’re willing to drive 30 minutes back to the fishing village area and brave through language barrier, there are budget accommodations ranging between Rp. 50,000-300,000 by the lake shores, which you can book by calling (see details).

High-end

Taman Simalem Resort exterior

Taman Simalem Resort exterior

Taman Simalem Resort is the only known accommodation in the area. Thankfully, their staff speak English and there are plenty of facilities to make the stay worthwhile. Amenities include golf course, spa and wellness centre, children’s playground, karaoke and guided tour activities. Price Range: SGD$170-250 (based on average rates for a Standard Room). For more photos and availability check out HotelsCombined or Agoda

Places to stay in Parapat

All hotels are located within 15-minute drive to the city centre and their staff speaks English. Prices listed are based on average rates for a Standard Room.

HotelType of accomRating on TripadvisorPrice per nightMore Photos & Availability
Melissa PalaceBudget3S$17

Sapadia Hotel and Cottage ParapatBudget3S$31

Parapat View HotelMid3,5S$55

Atsari Hotel Mid4S$55

Inna ParapatMid3,5S$67

Niagara Hotel and Resort Mid3,5S$70

Affordable

Melissa Palace view

Melissa Palace view

Melissa Palace provides easy no-frills lodging just by the lake side with 24-hour front desk and free wifi. Rates at SGD$20 nightly.

Mid-range

Atsari Hotel room

Atsari Hotel room

Atsari Hotel is a pleasant boutique accommodation by the Lake Toba shores. All rooms are well-conditioned and equipped with flat-screen TV. Additionally, guests can enjoy Indonesian cuisine at Atsari Restaurant. Price range: SGD$55-100.

High-end

Niagara Hotel and Resort

Niagara Hotel and Resort

Niagara Hotel and Resort is a 4-star hotel situated on a hill with charming Lake Toba view. Facilities include swimming pool with jacuzzi, discotheque, conference rooms, mini zoo, playground, etc. Price range: SGD$70-200.

Getting to Lake Toba and Berastagi Highland

For arrival in Kualanamu airport, we recommend to take the earliest morning flight or arrive the night before. For departure to Singapore, we recommend to take night flights as Lake Toba is 4 hours drive away from the airport (assuming no traffic).

SilkAir has flights running daily from $250 return. The best flight time to Kualanamu Airport is 7.40-8am or 7-7.20pm the night before (1hr 20mins). The best return flight time to Singapore is 8.05-11.20pm (1hr 15 mins).

Garuda Indonesia has flights running daily from $180 return. The flight time to Kualanamu Airport is 11.15-11.45am (1hr 30mins). The return flight time to Singapore is 1.30-4pm (1hr 30mins).

Jetstar has flights running daily from $170 return. Flight times differ depending on the dates you prefer. On average, the duration of Jetstar flights between Singapore and Kualanamu Airport is 1hr 30mins.

Getting around Lake Toba and Berastagi Highland

Tourism infrastructure between the airport, Lake Toba and Berastagi Highland is still developing, and while this enhances its rustic charm, public transport can be very complicated and time-inefficient.

The best mode of transportation to get from Berastagi to Lake Toba, or from Medan to Lake Toba, is to rent a car from the airport or via Rentalcars.com (approximately Rp. 950,000–1,300,000 per day). The road is generally good and paved if you stick to the main path. However, there are several sharp turns and hilly drives. Road signs are not in English, and the countryside folk do not speak English, so make sure you have access to Google Maps to be safe.

If you’re not an experienced driver, an alternative is to hire a car with a driver from Toba Transporter or Sumatera Adventure, which typically costs around $300–600 for 4 days. You may need to negotiate the exact places to visit and price before confirming.

Other important notes

Time difference

Medan, Berastagi, Tongging and Parapat are 1 hour behind Singapore

Things to pack

– Sweater and long pants as the weather can get really cold, especially at night

– Non-slip footwear for jungle trekking and visiting waterfalls

– Extra clothes and clean towel if you’re planning to visit Sipiso Piso

– Insect repellent—mosquitoes are common here!

– Umbrella in case of rainy weather

Avoid high season

Berastagi and Lake Toba are very popular getaway destinations among Medanese, so try to avoid mid-year and end-year school holidays period as much as possible. Otherwise, you’ll get stuck in traffic for really long.

For weekend getaways, though the traffic won’t be as bad, there’s a pretty good chance that the good hotels will be fully booked, so try to reserve as early as possible.

Size matters

Lake Toba is really huge. Some parts are really quiet and not well-lit at night, so try not to wander too far from where you stay.

Helplines

Police: 110

– Ambulance: 118 or 199

– Fire brigade: 113 or 1131

– Search and rescue: 115

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