The Highlights of North Sumatra

NORTH SUMATRA

Medan is a gateway to the greater North Sumatra. Sumatra itself is the largest island in Indonesia and 6th largest in the world. This mountainous region is filled with rich culture, thick jungle, historic lake, and volcanos. For those who are planning to explore Indonesia, let’s see the highlights of North Sumatra.

the mega volcanic lakes on earth
Lake Toba

Lake Toba

This is no argument the ultimate highlight of Sumatra, especially in the Batak Highland. There are a lot of things to be explored here and the volcanic lake itself is impressive. Elevated at 900M, the surrounding area is home to the Batak Karo ethnic that possess unique culture, tradition, and architecture. The lake is 505M deep with 100KM long and 30KM wide, making it the largest volcanic lake in the world. It also obtained UNESCO Geopark Certification. The island of Samosir is located in the center of the lake with several traditional Batak settlements such as Kampung Tomok and Tuktuk. According to the Batak legend, the lake, Tao Toba in local dialect was a result of God’s wrath on the people. Nowadays, most of them embrace Christianity but with strong paganism roots.

The lake is said to be formed after an enormous eruption 75,000 years ago. It was the most massive volcanic eruption on earth within 25 million years that had caused significant change to population and geographical map in Southeast Asia, East Africa, the Indian sub-continent and the Pacific. The tsunami that followed after the eruption caused Sumatra and Peninsular Malaysia to be separated until now with lots of small islands formed along the Indonesian coast. The volcanic winter that occurred afterward saw a colossal fall in temperature that resulted in a low birth rate. This affected the inhabitants of Southeast Asian or Sunda region and Indian sub-continent at that time and they almost fell to extinction.

The lake is home to various types of native and introduced fish. Some native fish are threatened by changes in water level and deforestation. The surrounding area is home to Sumatran rainforest and tropical pine forest. The main town around Toba is Parapat and Brastagi. During the yearly Lake Toba Festival that usually takes place in the third quarter of the year, the area surrounding the lake such as Samosir, Brastagi and Parapat are lit up with canoe activities, boat race, Batak cultural dance and rituals attracting thousands of tourist.

Entrance fee: N/A

Opening hours: N/A

 

Parapat

Harbors

harbors of lake toba
Melissa Palace and Tiga Raja Harbors

Located in Uluan peninsula, this main town in southern lake Toba is the popular transit point by ferry for visitors going to Samosir Island. The ferries depart from Ajibata and Tiga Raja Harbours to Tomok and Tuk Tuk. Most affordable hotels and guesthouses are located here. Some of the most popular are Patra Parapat Lake Resort, Inna Parapat, Danau Toba International Cottage, and Melissa Palace. The road from Parapat is connected to Permatang Siantar and Medan City (Kota Medan) via Trans-Sumatran Highway. Every Saturday, the Tiga Raja market is open near the harbor. The locals will open their booths selling handicrafts, souvenirs, and food. The information center for Toba Caldera National Park is located in Jalan Marihat, Parapat about 750M from Tiga Raja Harbour. It is where you can find all the information you need on the Toba chronology, history, points of interest and volcanic activities.

Ferries fee: IDR 15,000

Operating hours: 8.30 AM – 7 PM

Information center fee: Free

Operating hours: 8.30 AM – 9 PM

 

Beach and Sumatran Coffee

organic coffee of indonesia
Sumatran Coffee Mills by Tigaraja.com

One main attraction here is the Free Beach which offers fun activities like kayaking, canoeing, and boating. The greater Simalungun area is also home to organic Sumatran coffee, namely Tiga Raja collective. The mills focused on sustainable harvest and promoting the authentic taste of Sumatran coffee with the help of local farmers. Parapat, especially in Haranggaol Street, is home to many coffee shops such as Tutu Koffie Danau Toba and Star Coffee Shop. The best view of Parapat is in Panatapan viewpoint, this area provides the breathtaking view of Lake Toba and Parapat town. There are resort, cafe, and restaurant here that facing this magnificent volcanic lake.

Entrance fee (Free Beach and Panatapan): Free

Opening hours (Free Beach and Panatapan): 24 Hours

Price range (beach activities): IDR 50,000 – IDR 100,000

Price range (coffee): IDR 15,000 – IDR 25,000

Opening hours (coffee shops): 9 AM – 10 PM

 

Batu Gantung Stalactites

The highlights of Toba
A Ferry Approaching Batu Gantung by Toledo inn

6 KM northwest of Parapat is an attraction that holds legendary history. Known as Batu Gantung in the local language, it translates as ‘the hanging rock’. It is said to be a place where a broken-hearted girl named Seruni fell into a hole in the rock while walking her dog named Toki. As she were not able to marry the man she loves, she asked the rock to take her life while screaming ‘Parapat!’, which means closer. The rock then trapped her inside as wished and nobody can save her. Soon after, an earthquake happened and she was trapped in there forever. A hanging rock shaped like a girl then appeared. The locals believed it was a sign of Seruni and the whole area was named Parapat due to her last word. Public ferries do not pass by this area as it is not on their route, however, tourist ferries provided by resorts will. This ferries will pass by the stalactites of Batu Gantung on the way to Samosir island. It is also a spot where the hills are spectacularly green and the lake water is crystal clear.

Price range (tourist ferries): IDR 350,000 – IDR 500,000 per boat

Opening hours: 8.30 AM – 4 PM

 

Taman Eden 100

caves and waterfalls in north sumatra
Bat Caves at Taman Eden by marginalwisata

Located in Tobasa, Lumban Djulu district, it is about 17KM from Parapat town, Eden Garden is home to various kind of wild orchids, well-kept highland tropical rainforest, organic berries, and waterfall. This 1000 hectare garden is also heaven for Sumatran native birds and monkeys. For jungle trekking and camping fans, the hiking route along Bukit Manja is spectacular with three waterfalls and a bat caves. The waterfalls are a perfect spot for a quick dip, especially the 2 tiered and the magnificent 7 tiered Gantung Rimba waterfall. The viewpoint is called Rumah Tarzan (Tarzan House), where the scenery of the whole Eden Garden and Lake Toba can be seen. Blackwood Coffeehouse is also available for those who want to relax and enjoy the view with a sip of Sumatran coffee.

Entrance fee: IDR 5,000

Opening hours: 8 AM – 6 PM

 

Binangalom Waterfall

amazing waterfalls in sumatra
Binangalom or Situmurun Waterfall by DiMedan.Co

Toba is well known for some of the most majestic waterfalls in North Sumatra. The Binangalom waterfall or known by the locals as Situmurun waterfall is by far the prettiest of them all. Located around 30KM from Parapat and 15KM from Taman Eden 100, The Binangalom village is reachable via Trans-Sumatran Highway. From there, a boat near the jetty provides service to the falls. Direct boats from Parapat or Samosir can also be hired to visit this waterfall. The view of the 7 tiered falls is spectacular with crystal clear water falling from the hills directly into Lake Toba. Binangalom itself means refreshing water and becoming increasingly popular among foreign visitors. Swimming and fishing are allowed but precaution is a must as the current can be quite rough.

Price range (tourist ferries): IDR 350,000 – IDR 500,000 per boat

Opening hours: 8 AM – 4 PM

 

Bidadari Jonggi Nihuta waterfall

waterfalls in parapat and samosir
Bidadari Jonggi Nihuta Waterfall by @cmount2017

A few KM northwest from Binangalom is Bidadari Jonggi Nihuta waterfall. Located in Jonggi Nihuta village, the falls is about 50M heights and need a further trekking into the jungle as it is a bit secluded. By road, the main Trans-Sumatran highway can be taken before turning into a small road leading to the base of the waterfall. The water is calmer and the pond is smaller. Nevertheless, the surrounding forest with sounds of birds chirping will bring a peace of mind.

Entrance fee: Free

Opening hours: 24 Hours

 

Samosir Island

things to do in Samosir
The Island of Samosir, Toba

The largest island within an island, that is how fascinating Samosir is. It is a Batak heartland where the cultural museum, heritage, rituals, most resorts, and bars are located. Formerly a peninsula, the Dutch dug a tunnel in 1906 that separates Samosir from the surrounding mainland. This island also holds yearly events like Samosir international Music Festival, Christmas Season and Sepinggan Festival.

 

Tuktuk

great hotels in tuktuk samosir
Toledo Inn in Tuk Tuk

Ferries depart from Parapat will stop here in Tuktuk, one of the leading tourism towns in Samosir. Tuktuk is the where most resorts and guesthouses are clustered on the island. The prices are slightly higher but the atmosphere is vibrant. Bars, restaurants and tours packages are abundant here along the beach line, traditional villages, and local owned villas. Authentic traditional Tuak or palm wine can be found in the local toddy shop.  Some of the most well-rated hotels or guesthouses are Mas Cottages, Toledo Inn, Romlan Guesthouse, Horas Family Homes and Carolina Hotel.

Price range (hotels and guesthouses): IDR 100,000 – IDR 500,000

Opening hours: N/A

 

Simanindo

Museum Huta Bolon

heritage of the batak in sumatra
Ritual Dance at Museum Huta Bolon Simanindo by TourToba

About 17KM northwest along Jalan Pulau Samosir passing by hotels, guesthouses, beaches, and churches is Museum Huta Bolon located in the village of Simanindo. It was formerly the royal house of King Sidauruk and his fourteen wives, decorated with 10 buffalo horns that representing 10 generations of the royal family. The house was then renovated and turned into a museum to preserve the Batak Toba culture. Other than a hundred years old artifacts, weaponry, and tapestries, the museum holds essential ancient cultural performance show and dance of the Bataks. Other than that, a uniquely carved boat is also showcase to the visitors. The performance consists of animism rituals, cultural dance and Sigale-Gale puppet show alongside Batak Gondang music. The unique Tor Tor Tunggal Panaluan dance is performed together with the visitors and locals, it is a way of showing respect to the Gods, spirits and elderly. The tombs of the king and his family now can be seen at the entrance of the village. The performance is conducted 2 times a day and 1 time a day on Sunday.

Entrance fee: IDR 10,000

Performance fee: IDR 50,000

Opening hours: 8 AM – 4 PM

performance hours: 10.30 AM & 11.45 AM

 

Pantai Batu Hoda

beaches of Toba
Batu Hoda Beach in Simanindo by Tapanuli

Located about 2.5 KM west from Museum Huta Bolon via Jalan Pelabuhan Simanindo, Pantai Batu Hoda is known as a place to rest and relax. The colorful umbrellas leading to the rocky beach is a perfect spot for a photograph. The name Batu Hoda means Horse Stone in Batak language. Legend said that a mare swam across Lake Toba and waited for it stallion at this spot. She waited but the stallion never came and she turned into stone. Hence the name is adopted for this rocky beach. The calm water of the lake with lush of green trees surrounding it is excellent for a sunset experience.

Parking fee: IDR 10,000

Opening hours: 24 hours

 

Ambarita

Huta Siallagan

historic place at Samosir
Stone Chairs at Huta Siallagan by htiga.org

The small town of Ambarita, north of Tuktuk is where the infamous Huta Siallagan is located. Huta in Batak language means a village, settlement of clan. This village with traditional Bolon and Sopo houses is said to be the first Huta leader settlement, Raja Laga Siallagan, which carry the family line of the second Batak King, Isumbaon. Up until now, descendants of this king still occupies Ambarita villages. The tomb of their ancestors can be found around this area. What attracts people the most is two sets of stone which believed to be about more than 200 years old called Batu Persidangan. Located under a sacred Hariara Tree one set was used for meetings of the elderly and the other for execution. Local guide for complete information can be hired for a fee. Ambarita is also a place where the locals sell their handicrafts as souvenirs to visitors.

Entrance fee: IDR 5,000

Opening hours: 7 AM – 7 PM

 

Simangande Waterfall

waterfalls in samosir toba
Simangande Waterfall near Ambarita

Located in Garoga Village in the center between Tomok and Ambarita via Jalan Pulau Samosir, this waterfall can be seen from outside Samosir island. The mountains shaped like a heart with the falls flowing through it makes it popularly known as the ‘Love Waterfalls’. It is 500M high and the highest waterfall in Samosir. The hike leading to this waterfall can be rough especially in the rainy season. Guide for trekking can be hired from the locals of Garoga village. Taking a dip in the pond with the spectacular view of this tall and thin waterfall worth the sweat.

Entrance fee: Free

Opening hours: 24 hours

 

Kampung Tomok

what to do in Tomok
Local handicrafts and souvenir seller in Kg. Tomok

The well kept Sopo or Batak traditional houses have drawn lots of visitors here. The curve roof and unique architecture is a heritage that is still preserved by the Batak Toba from generations before. Tomok is also known as the perfect place to get affordable local handicrafts such as the traditional Ulos and souvenirs. From Batik to wooden carvings, the price can be negotiated and the options are varied. It is also home to the best local restaurants where you can dine on authentic Batak cuisine cooked with Andaliman spices such as deep-fried Pora-Pora fish and Naniura, a form of ‘Batak sushi’. About 8KM into the rainforest via Jalan Pulau Samosir is Sigarattung Waterfall. Located right beside the street it is a frequent stop for tourist going to the south of Samosir island.

Entrance fee: N/A

Opening hours: N/A

 

Tomb of King Sidabutar

ancient tombs of sumatra
Tomb of King Sidabutar by MedanTourTravel

One of the mystical sights is the Tomb of King Sidabutar. Legend says he is the first person to step foot in Samosir Batak highland. Thus, he was given such power of no ordinary person. The tomb of the 3 Kings and their family is placed above the ground with solid rock unlike the common, under the soil. The 2 early tombs are marked clearly with animism (Parmalin) ancient carvings and the last one with Christian markings. It is one of a highly respected site by the locals and you need to have a proper wear to enter.

Entrance fee: Donations are welcome

Opening hours: 8 AM – 5 PM

 

Sigale-Gale Cultural Show

the show of batak heritage
SiGale-Gale Performance at Tomok by Kumparan/AndikaWahyu

Located near the tomb is Sigale-Gale cultural show, a traditional dancing puppet performance surrounded by traditional Batak houses that were built without a single nail. The legend state that, in ancient times the puppet was carved and created as a mimic of King Rahat’s son that died in a battlefield. The reason was to treat the King’s illness. During this ritual, the spirit of the son entered Sigale-Gale and the puppet dance on its own accompanied by Batak music, Gondang Mula. The Sigale-Gale show is an adaptation of this story and presented to the visitors for a fee.

Entrance fee: IDR 100,000

Opening hours: 8 AM – 6 PM

 

Batak Museum Tomok

batak heritage museum and history
Batak Museum in Tomok

The Batak Museum Tomok is located 180M from Sigale-Gale puppet shows. The impressive carvings at the entrance of the museum in red, black and white represent the spiritual symbol of Batak people. It offered a glimpse of their ancient way of livings. This included weapons, antiques, cultural relics, traditional clothes, and home appliances. The guide at the museum also explains certain vital carvings on Batak houses and tombs. The lizards’ carvings on the tomb and some of their relics mean the Batak have to adapt to changes wherever they go, while the breasts image means the man must always remember their wives and mothers no matter where they are. Some of the artifacts collected are from hundred years ago found in Batak villages around Toba, it gives out a lot of information on their history and lifestyle.

Entrance fee: IDR 5,000

Opening hours: 8 AM – 8 PM

 

Aek Natonang Lake

lakes within a lake in asia
Aek Natonang Lake by Air Boretum

A lake within a lake or ‘Danau di atas danau‘, even the description is fascinating. Located 14KM south from Batak Museum Tomok via Jalan Pulau Samosir, this natural lake is also a part of Toba water irrigation system and fish farms. Elevated at 900M and surrounded by rainforest, it can be foggy in the early morning and late afternoon. Camping and fishing are allowed here. The calm water and green fields are something to look forward too. People often confuse this lake with Sidihoni which is another bigger lake in Samosir. Aek Natonang is more visited by tourist due to its distance, road condition, and facilities. 

Entrance fee: Free

Opening hours: 24 hours

 

Pangururan

villages in samosir
Lumban Suhi Village in Panguruan by Samosirwisata

Located in the western part of Samosir island, it is the region that connects to the Toba mainland via a bridge. Pangururan is the capital and largest city in Samosir. Despite all this, it is known for hot springs, waterfalls, mountain, and beaches

Entrance fee: N/A

Opening hours: N/A

 

Pusuk Buhit Mountain

hiking spots in sumatra
Hikers in Pusuk Buhit Mountain by Steemit

The mountain of Pusuk Buhit a favorite trekking spot for hiking lovers. Sits at 1982M above sea level, it is one of the volcanic mountains in Sumatra. The hike will take within 2 hours and the view from the peak of this mountain is magnificent. The whole of Lake Toba and Samosir can be seen from here. The locals regard this mountain as sacred, it is said to be the place the first Batak King was born. Thus, they are still practicing spirituals events around it. The starting point is either at Sarimarrihit or Batu Sawan and is accessible by car or bike.

Entrance fee: IDR 2,000

Opening hours: 24 hours

 

Hadabuan Naisogop Waterfall

spectacular waterfalls in sumatra
Hadabuan Naisogop Waterfall by @dikkisimbolon

Toba and its surrounding offer the most majestic waterfalls in Sumatra, one of it is Hadabuan Naigosop located in Urat Village, Sarimarrihit, at the foot of Pusuk Buhit mountain. Hide between the caldera among some native wild plants, this new attractions in Toba is becoming more popular among foreign tourist. The water from this waterfall is cold and refreshing. Taking a dip while enjoying the beautiful scenery will satisfy the need of those finding peace and tranquility.

Entrance fee: Free

Opening hours: 24 hours

 

Hot Spring

volcanic hot springs around sumatra
Aek Rangat Hot Springs in Pangururan

As Pusuk Buhit is a volcanic mountain, hot springs can be located in several places here. The natural sulfur hot springs near the base of this mountain are the most popular and refreshing. Known as Aek Rangat, the locals believe it has healing effects and can cure diseases. Hot springs also make your skin glow and radiant. The ponds are separated based on temperatures and bathing is allowed for visitors. Cafes and resort are also located nearby.

Entrance fee: IDR 10,000

Opening hours: 24 hours

 

Aek Sipitu Dai

magical springs across the world
3 of the 7 Fountains of Aek Sipitu Dai by Toba.Indonesia Tourism

Located around 18KM from the hot springs via Jalan Tele-Panguruan, the seven water fountains coming from this place are considered as exceptional for the locals. Legend says the third Batak King opens it and the locals believe it has mystical medicinal powers to those who wish for it. These 7 springs surprisingly taste differently and are segregated. Each allocated to a particular group of people such as newborns, pregnant ladies, barren and elderly man. Do note that it is also a water source for the locals during drought season.

Entrance fee: IDR 5,000

Opening hours: 24 hours

 

Tele Tower

where to catch scenic view of toba
Menara Pandang Tele or Toba Tele Tower by DiMedan.Co

10KM south from Aek Sipitu Dai is the Tele Tower or known as Menara Pandang Tele in the local language. This 4 storeys tower was built in 1988 and offer the majestic view of Lake Toba, Pusuk Buhit mountain and the whole Toba Caldera. The green view of the hills surrounding with waterfalls can be seen from this tower making it the best place for those who are into photography.

Entrance fee: IDR 7,000

Opening hours: 24 hours

 

Efrata Waterfall

waterfalls in Toba
Efrata Waterfall by Mata.co

Situated 6KM south of Tele Tower in Solok Dolok Village, the spectacular Efrata waterfall flow stunningly 26M from the top of the Bukit Barisan hill. Surrounded by wild trees, the waterfall has an unspoiled beauty and a haven for adventurers and campers. It offers a perfect spot for camping and picnic. Do note that the flow is stronger during the rainy season.

Entrance fee: IDR 7,000

Opening hours: 24 hours

 

Sianjur Mula-Mula

where to learn batak history
Village in Sianjur Mula Mula

The villages around Sianjur Mula Mula region is said to be the birthplace of the Batak Tribes and the first human, Si Boru Deak Parujar that came down from Banua Ginjang (heaven). Located around Pusuk Buhit mountains, it is encircled by hills and rice fields and the view is breathtaking. These ancient villages offer a various unique culture and architectures of Batak people. Some of these are Sigulatti King Batak Village, the place where Raja Batak set the first Batak civilization. Other villages include Desa Limbong and Sagala that provides a complete history of Guru Tatea Bulan and Raja Isumbaeon, the Raja Batak first generation and the historic Batu Hobon.

Entrance fee: Donations are welcome

Opening hours: 24 hours

 

Pasir Putih Parbaba

great beaches in toba
Pasir Putih Parbaba Beach by Viva.co.id

Parbaba Beach is a beach with rare white soft sand located in Hutabolon Village, 11KM north of Pangururan via Jalan Gereja. The calm water made it a perfect spot for swimming and water activities such as Odong Odong Danau, a form of water boat for sightseeing and beach volleyball. The local tourist flocks her on weekend and public holiday as it is one of the safest beaches in Toba regency, due to the shallow water level. It is worth a stop for those who are visiting Pangururan.

Entrance fee: IDR 2,000

Price range (water activities): IDR 20,000 – IDR 50,000

Opening hours: 24 hours

 

Lake Sidihoni

a lake within a lake
Lake Sidihoni by MedanBisnisDaily

16KM east of Pusuk Buhit mountain and Pangururan lies Lake Sidihoni, in Ronggurnihuta district to be precise. It is another fascinating crater lake within a lake similar to Aek Natonang. The almost 20 hectare-wide lake is part of the massive Caldera Complex of Toba Lake. Elevated at 1300M above sea level, It is famous for its tranquil atmosphere and surrounding pine rainforest. A little bit secluded, the area is home to farmers and shepherds. The green slope of hills and clear water lake will leave you in awe. It is also a haven for buffaloes here. 

Entrance fee: IDR 2,000

Opening hours: 24 hours

 

Simarjarunjung

Bukit Indah Simarjarunjung

the best place for lake toba view
Simarjarunjung Hill by Daun Hijau Travel

The Panatapan in Simarjarunjung hill is known for a photography spot for selfie enthusiast. Lies along the coastline of Toba, the view itself is impressive. The top of the trees is modified with unique photo booths such as love, bicycles and a hut. The photo is taken with the fascinating Lake Toba at the back. It is a favorite spot for the young locals to capture their photo. The nearby Simarjarunjung hill rest stop about 1KM from the Panatapan provides you with some cafes serving a hot cup of tea or coffee from the region of Simalungun. Visitors can enjoy their drink with views of pine trees along the lake.

Entrance Fee: IDR 5,000

Opening hours: 24 Hours

 

Binanga Bolon Waterfall

waterfalls around indonesia
Binanga Bolon Waterfall by @travelmatesiantar

Located in Haranggaol Nagori Purba Pasir 10KM from Bukit Indah Simarjarunjung, It requires about 20 minutes of trekking into the rocky rainforest along Lake Toba. The strong current from this 700M waterfall can be felt a few meters from it making anyone try to approach it soaked in cold refreshing water. The untouched beauty of this strong waterfall is mesmerizing. It is not known to foreign tourist before and starting to gain popularity after the road has been fixed. The nearest boat and ferry stop is in Tiga Ras town.

 

ultimate tips to toba and north sumatra

Important Tips:

  • The ferry schedule varies depending on destination. The ferry departs from Parapat are usually more frequent with the last one at 9 PM. The last ferry to depart from Samosir (Tomok and Tuktuk) to the mainland (Parapat) is at 7 PM.
  • Most hotels and guesthouses provide tour packages involving car/vans, ferries and 4WD. It is advisable to ask beforehand on the rate offered as it will depend on the location.
  • Gentle bargaining is a must to buy souvenirs and handicraft at a reasonable price and to avoid rip off. The locals are used to bargaining and haggling with tourist.
  • The motorbike rentals are offered by local throughout Samosir island and Parapat. The average price is IDR 70,000 per bike. Do take safety precaution as the road condition can be terrible.

Lake Toba of North Sumatra is known for its volcanic mountains and beautiful streams and rivers. Our next article will explore more of the region of Brastagi, Tongging, and Balige.