Located in the heart of the Indonesian island of Sumatra, Lake Toba is an unusual natural marvel known for its natural beauty, flora and fauna, and fascinating culture. The crater-shaped lake was created about 75,000 years ago by the largest super-volcanic eruption ever recorded. Today, the caldera spans over an area of over 1200 square km, making Lake Toba the largest volcanic lake in the world.
A visit to this lake is definitely one for the bucket list, and we've shortlisted some unique things for you to do there.
Take a dip in the lake
Most resorts and guesthouses at Lake Toba are by the lakeside, and a perfect way to spend the day is by taking a dip and swimming in its clear waters. You can also sit by the water with a drink or try your hand at fishing here. For the more adventurous lot, there are water activities such as kayaking and jet skiing to indulge in as well.
Visit a Batak village
The locals of Lake Toba are called 'Batak', who belong to an ancient Sumatran tribe. While they have become quite modernised with increased exposure to western culture, they still hold on to local traditions in the form of unique customs and the arts, not unlike the culture of the tribes in Northeast India. To get up, close and personal with their wonderful culture, you can simply rent a motorcycle and ride over to one of the many Batak Villages on the island of Samosir.
Eat traditional Batak food
Often, the best way to explore a new culture is by experimenting with native cuisine, and Lake Toba is no exception to that. While freshwater fish forms an important part of the local diet, different meats such as beef, pork and chicken also form a major part of the daily grub. Some of the unique dishes you shouldn't miss out on are saksang (a pork dish with pig’s blood), manuk napinadar (a chicken dish with chicken blood) and beef rendang (beef cooked in a spicy coconut curry). For vegetarians, stir-fried cassava leaves, similar to spinach, is a staple, often paired with the delicious vegetable/egg fried rice combination.
Take a Batak cooking lesson
To take your Batak culinary tour to the next level, you can try your hand at cooking a traditional meal with a Batak family. These cooking classes are available at various homes across the island of Samosir, and you will not only learn how to cook a meal with local ingredients but also get a chance to visit a wet market and choose these ingredients!
Drink Sumatran coffee with a view
A visit to Lake Toba is considered incomplete without tasting the local Sumatran coffee, which is famous world over. To make this experience unique, the island of Samosir has numerous local coffee houses set atop cliffs, where you can get spectacular views of the lake and surrounding hills.
Visit one of Indonesia's tallest waterfalls
Sipisopiso is one of the highest waterfalls of Indonesia, which lies in the highlands of North Sumatra. It emerges from a cave at the edge of Lake Toba, and you can even hike down to the waterfall base and splash around in the refreshing pool.
Climb a Volcano
The volcanoes of Sibayak (dormant) or Sinabung (active) are near Lake Toba and you can trek up these in just a few hours. In fact, you can even camp overnight at Sibayak, and take a dip in its many sulphur springs.
Lake Toba may have been created by a violent explosion, but is a natural tribute to the age-old adage – ‘Every dark cloud has a silver lining', and this silver lining is well worth a visit!
Singapore Airlines, Malaysian Airlines and Air Asia have flights from India to Medan (the closest city to Lake Toba) via Singapore or Kuala Lumpur. From Medan, it is a 6-7 hour drive to Parapat (a town beside Lake Toba), where you can stay and enjoy the beauty of the lake. Another option is to take a 45-minute ferry from Parapat to the island of Samosir, which lies in the middle of the lake and spend a few days there.
The writer is a consulting professional based out of Singapore. She follows her passion for travel and food on the weekends, and blogs about it here.