Wanderlust | Journey to the world’s largest volcanic lake

AFTER around four hours of navigating the circuitous highway from Kuala Namu International Airport adjacent to Medan to the quaint, touristy lakeside town of Parapat, we were welcomed by wild gibbons as we drove along the highway leading to the great Sumatran lake.

LAKE Toba, world's largest volcano lake

LAKE Toba, world’s largest volcano lake

“You would know that you’re approaching Lake Toba when you see them by the roadside,” said Jack Nathan, a Medan-based Batak (tribe) tour guide. Batak is the predominant indigenous group in the island of Sumatra, Indonesia.

In a few minutes, we were greeted by a breathtaking spectacle of serene waters, towering landscapes and hazy mid-afternoon skies seamlessly melded together by nature. Before our eyes was the legendary Lake Toba in her full glory and the 630 square kilometer volcanic island of Pulo Samosir, the world’s largest island within an island.

Yes, it’s larger than Singapore.

Lake Toba is also a royalty in volcanic lakes. The massive body of water is king of volcanic lakes in this side of the universe – about 100 kilometers long, 30 kilometers wide, and around 505 meters deep.

THIS writer with Consul General Berlian Napitupulu (center) and his staff Geovani Mocodompis

THIS writer with Consul General Berlian Napitupulu (center) and his staff Geovani Mocodompis

“Lake Toba is a product of a supervolcanic eruption that happened around 77,000 years ago,” shared Nathan.

The climate-changing event resulted in the collapse of the volcano, forming a collosal caldera, that is now Lake Toba. According to studies, its eruption was the largest-known on Earth in the last 25 million years.

“It was such a monumental natural catastrophe that it created a volcanic winter and decreased worldwide temperature from 5 °C to 15 °C,” he added.

Thick volcanic ash from Toba was said to have covered the entire Southeast Asia at that time and killed thousands of people.

Today, the sleeping giant appears calm as it welcomes guests and spectators to its arresting beauty concealed in the hinterlands of North Sumatra. At 2,969 feet above sea level, the air was naturally nippy, another reason why tourists from the lowlands as well as from other parts of Indonesia, Malaysia, China and even Europe, visit the lake especially during the scorching Asian summer.

Cruising from Parapat to Samosir on a tour boat, we saw the array of tourist accommodations, from luxurious villas to modest chalets, on the lake side. Apparently, most of these were constructed 20 to 30 years ago, when Lake Toba’s popularity started to grow.

Perhaps, due to the rise of other tourism lures around Sumatra, the growth in Lake Toba tourism was stunted in recent years.


At SIMARJARUNJUNG Rest House, overlooking Lake Toba.

At SIMARJARUNJUNG Rest House, overlooking Lake Toba.

Nevertheless, it still has maintained its natural and cultural charm. In Samosir, we were awed by the living cultures of the Batak Toba clan, with their social and natural assets carefully preserved. In Huta Sillagan, an ancient Batak cultural village, we saw how their traditional houses function and how some of their indigenous practices are still being practiced to this day.

We also visited King Sidabutar’s tomb, said to be the first man on Samosir. The tomb is adorned with a carving representing the king’s facial features. Interestingly, on the opposite side of the tomb, a female sculpture, not his wife but the woman whom he fell in love with over the years (yes, his TOTGA – The One That Got Away), can be seen.

There were also other tombs surrounding the king’s grave, embellished with Batak traditional ornaments. Those who converted to Christianity, crosses were decked on top of their tombs. This is also evident in most parts of North Sumatra.

“More than just a tribe, the Batak people of Sumatra comes from an ancient civilization, complete with our own calendar, justice system, architecture, alphabet, numbers, astronomy, and other elements that form the bedrock of a civilized society,” said Consul General of the Indonesian Consulate in Davao/Mindanao Berlian Napitupulu.

An active advocate of Indonesian culture, Napitipulu is also a proud Batak. This writer, along with his staff Geovani Mocodompis, joined him in a four-day journey in some of North Sumatra’s popular destinations.

Napitupulu, perhaps, the most active Indonesian ConGen designated in Davao, also promoted Davao and Mindanao in the said trip, consulting with Sumatran entrepreneurs for possible partnerships, investments and other opportunities in Mindanao.

“There is no better opportunity than now – with President Rodrigo Duterte, who is from Mindanao, reigniting the Philippines’ ties with Indonesia as a social and economic partner,” he said during his meeting with a local business chamber.

But Lake Toba is on a major comeback starting this year.

“Major developments are underway. The administration of President Joko Widodo is planning to make Lake Toba as the ‘Monaco of Southeast Asia,’” Napitupulu said.

A BATAK Toba shows some local dance moves to a group of Malaysian tourists

A BATAK Toba shows some local dance moves to a group of Malaysian tourists

Aside from the construction of modern tourist facilities, the tourism department also revealed other ambitious developments along the Lake Toba caldera.

“A cruise ship will soon ply three identified areas in Lake Toba. A world class theme park, a project from local and international investors, will soon be enjoyed by tourists. Also in the works are bike lanes around the lake ridges, and various Batak cultural showcases,” said Madame Hidayati, regional head of the Culture and Tourism of North Sumatera and general manager of Lake Toba Caldera Geopark.

The tourism agency is also setting up an educational center for the communities around the geopark where they will develop sustainable projects that will help improve the local community’s quality of life while maintaining the quality of the environment and giving tourists a worthwhile Lake Toba experience.

There are two ways to get to Lake Toba from Davao. First is via Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia with AirAsia. From KL, take another hour plane trip to Medan, Indonesia. Second is via Singapore with Silk Air or Cebu Pacific. From SG, take another plane ride to Medan. From Medan, take a public bus or charter a van for another four-hour journey to Parapat, Lake Toba via Siantar.

Special thanks to the Consular Office of Indonesia in Davao City, especially to ConGen Berlian Napitupulu, Consul Endah Yairty Farry and Geovani Mocodompis.

Posted in Lifestyle