Samosir island is found within the largest volcanic crater lake in the world; Lake Toba. With a radius of around 100km, it’s sizable but not intimidating.
From Medan airport it’s a 3-5 hour drive to the port town of Parapat, followed by an hour long boat ride. A little bit of a trek to get to, but 100% worth it. There’s something for everyone on this island; the town of Tuktuk, on a small peninsula, is where you’ll find plenty of guest houses, hotels, shops and restaurants, along with a few good bars.
Initially planning to stay four days, I ended up staying 8 due to the combination of freedom, landscape and relaxation. What is perhaps the most appealing thing about the Lake Toba area is how different it is to the rest of Indonesia, both in terms of the landscape and the atmosphere, which is very calm and welcoming. Even in a country as friendly as Indonesia, I felt more at home and comfortable here than anywhere else so far.
By far the best thing to do is rent a scooter (Rp 100,000 a day including fuel) and explore; the panoramic views on the drive will never cease to amaze and the roads are relatively quiet, so you can really enjoy the journeys. There are plenty of stunning view points and features to explore: the ‘lake on an island, within a lake on an island’, lots of little warungs to stop at, a couple of little beaches. It’s possible to drive the entire ring road in a day, a definite highlight of the trip to Toba!
The landscape in this area is incredible for hiking, however many of the hiking trails are not mapped very clearly, and those that I could find were very overgrown! This made for an entertaining solo adventure, however meant that I only made it half way up the trail! I managed 15km from Tuktuk along a path on Maps.me, until the route merged into many smaller paths through dense forest, getting very lost and very sweaty!
One of the best walks with amazing views is found on Bukit Holbung, a hill just off the island. This can be reached by driving around the western half of the island from Tuktuk and crossing the little bridge at Pangururan back to the mainland. The first part of the drive is absolutely stunning, however once you turn off the main road it gets a little more rough (and steep!). The path up to the top of Holbung is very easy, but definitely wear trainers!
Along with the stunning scenery, the culture here is very unique. The Batak people adopted Christianity during the first Dutch invasion, therefore the island has many pretty churches, but perhaps the most unique is the architecture. The island and surrounding area are dotted with Batak houses and graves, which are very beautiful, sitting in the stunning landscape. In the little town of Tomok, just outside Tuktuk there is a cool little Batak museum worth popping into for a Rp 5,000 donation. It also has traditional dance performances and a large market.
Last but not least, this tiny community is also incredibly sociable. As a solo traveller, heading to places not quite as well trodden by tourists can be a bit daunting. Personally, I like the balance of a few tourists to make friends with and locals. Tuktuk absolutely delivered on this one. Of course, it depends on the time of year, but it seems to attract just enough people to make it easy enough to nab an adventure buddy, and if not the locals are fun and friendly enough to keep you company in the evenings. Every day I was invited to a bar, to come join in with an acoustic session or simply sit and eat with people.
Surprisingly, on a Saturday night there’s usually a local band playing, and in true Indonesian style, plenty of singing and dancing.
Accommodation: Reggae hotel and Romlan came the most highly recommend. I stayed at Reggae for Rp 170,000 a night, although I also saw plenty of places cheaper!
Social: Roy’s pub. Standard Indonesian beers, chilled acoustic music and chats on weekdays, party night on Saturday. Excellent.
Food: so many places to choose from! Jenny’s had a good variety of food, well made and affordable. On a side note with the food, I was told that eating vegetarian would be next to impossible in Sumatra and had mentally prepared myself for 2x nasi goreng (fried rice) every day. This couldn’t have been further from the truth, both the tourist restaurants and the local warungs provided great food.
Money: There are two ATMs on Samosir Island, both are BNI Bank and allow VISA/ Mastercard transactions. If these are no good, make sure you take enough cash!
Apart from the obvious every day wear, here’s the essentials:
- Waterproof coat. The weather here is definitely less predictable than the rest of Indonesia, as well as significantly colder up in the hills.
- Walking boots/ trainers
- Swimwear- so many places for a wild swim!
- Motorbike and helmet
- Lightweight hoodie or long sleeve top