Lake Toba – Sipisopiso Waterfall – Berastagi – Mount Sibayat

Lake Toba located about 176 km from Medan city is the largest volcanic lake in the world.  It is 100 kilometres long, 30 kilometres wide, and 505 metres at its deepest point. It covers an area of 1,707 sq km (Singapore is only about 704 sq km) with an island (Samosir Island) in the center. It was formed by a gigantic volcanic eruption some 70,000 years ago, believed to be the largest volcanic eruption in the last 25 million years. Lake Toba is home to the Batak people who have a unique, interesting culture and are mostly Christian.

Sipisopiso Waterfall is located 45 km from Berastagi at the northern end of Lake Toba. At 120 metres high, it is the highest waterfall in Indonesia. The waterfall is formed by a small underground river of the Karo Plateau and flows out into the Lake Toba caldera.

Mount Sibayak (Indonesian:Gunung Sibayak) is a small stratovolcano overlooking the town of Berastagi in northern Sumatra, Indonesia. Although its last eruption was more than a century ago, geothermal activity in the form of steam vents and hot springs remains high on and around the volcano. The vents produce crystalline sulfur, which was mined on a small scale in the past. There is also a small  and shallow crater lake which is relatively accessible to visitors.

We flew in to Polonia Airport, Medan in Sumatra from Singapore. Our itinerary was a fast track one: 1st night in Medan (Grand Swiss-Belhotel*), 2nd night in Lake Toba (Samosirvilla Resort*), 3rd night in Berastagi (Horison Hotel*) and last night in Medan (Grand Swiss-Belhotel). In Sumatra, the road condition is generally quite bad and public transport unreliable. Hence we hired a driver** to bring us around in a min-van from Medan to Lake Toba, Berastagi and back to Medan. The hire fee worked out to be 600K rupiah per day.

*Grand Swiss-Belhotel is a new 5-star hotel located in Jalan S. Parman 217 Medan 20752. It is located in Medan central business district and is just besides a few shopping malls. We paid USD95  for a twin room which included a good international buffet breakfast. One of the best deals we got for this trip. As for the other two hotels, there is nothing much to complain or compliment about.

Even though the road distance from Medan to Lake Toba is a mere 180 km, it took us more than 5 hours** via winding and bumpy road to reach the small town Parapat on the edge of Lake Toba. Parapat is connected to the main towns of Tomok and Tuk Tuk on the Samosir Island (the island in the center of Lake Toba) by ferries that run every 1-2 hr or whenever the ferry has sufficient passengers. The ferry ride is about an hour and cost 7,000 rupiah one way.

**Some online sources quoted 4 hrs by private transport from Medan to Parapat. But 5 1/2 hrs should be a more conservative estimate.

Along the road from Medan to Lake Toba, we bypassed many Batak villages. Batak is an ethnic group found predominantly in North Sumatra especially in the region around Karo Highlands and Lake Toba. Majority of the Batak people are christians. Traditional Batak houses are noted for their ship hull-liked distinctive roofs which curve upwards at each ends. Their graves are also designed with a miniature Batak house on top (

Many resorts and hotels are located by the lakeside. Just tell the ferry captain the name of the resort you are going  and he will drop you directly at the “private jetty” of the resort.

The places of interests on Samsoir Island are: Tuk Tuk, Tomok, Ambarita, Museum Huta Solon Simanindo, hot spring ( After one night in Samsoir Island, we departed for Berastagi. Along the way, we dropped by the Batak’s King Palace and Sipisopiso Waterfall.

Batak’s King Palace is actually the old tribal residence of Batak Kings of thePurba dynasty. It is located in Pematang Purba village, 32 km from Parapat.

The above longhouse was the official residence of the Batak Kings.It was built of teak wood and supported by a number of wooden pillars. There is only one entrance to the longhouse. The longhouse consists of 2 compartments – the living quarter and the sleeping quarter. The first room to be entered is the living quarter with a number of musical instruments. Behind the living quarter is the sleeping quarter of the king and his 12 wives.

In the center of the living room is a pole with buffalo horns which signified the  supremacy of the Batak kings.

The above photo shows the sleeping quarter which is divided into identical sections, one for each of the king’s wives. The king’s sleeping area (not shown in the photo) is above the wives sleeping area and is reachable via a short ladder.

The Purba dynasty began in 1624 with the first Batak king, Tuan Pangultop Ultop, and last until 1947 with the 14th and last king, Tuan Mogang, after which the Batak kingdom was integrated into the newly independent Indonesia.

After Batak’s King Palace, we drove towards the town Kabanjahe which is 110 km from Parapat to see the Sipisopiso Waterfall. The waterfall is located on the North side of Lake Toba, 24 kms from Kabanjahe.

Interestingly, the waterfall  emerges from a hole in the cliff. The source of the waterfall is actually an underground river of the Karo Plateau. After the fall, the river flows through a small village Tongging  before it empties into Lake Toba.

To reach the plunge pool below the waterfall, one has to walk 30 min down a small trail from the gazebo for tourists. We went down to the edge of the plunge pool but didn’t manage to take any photo (to protect our camera from “the rain that falls from the pool”). The force of the plunging water is so strong that water is splashing everywhere near the pool. We were completely drenched even though we didn’t step into the pool.

The above photo shows view of Lake Toba from the gazebo. After Sipisopiso Waterfall, we drove to Berastagi to spend the night there. Berastagi with an elevation of 1220 m (35 km from Sipisopiso Waterfall and 80 Km from Medan), is famous for its two active volcanoes – Mount Sibayak (2120 m) and Mount Sinabong (2460 m).

The next day, we met our mountain guide Mr. Edwin D. Shinaga  in the hotel lobby to bring us up Mount Sibayak. Our van dropped us at the trail head ,which is an hour hike away to the mountain top. We traversed through  relatively dense forestation for the first half of the trail. The trail eventually led us out to the open where we were rewarded with breathtaking views of the surrounding mountains.

While there is no lava, there are fumaroles and creeks with simmering greenish water and a 300 m wide turquoise-colored crater lake near the  summit. The lake looks shallow but we didn’t dare to venture further into its center.

The above photo was taken from the crater rim. See the love declarations formed by pieces of rocks.

The above photo shows one of the highest point in the area. Not sure whether this is the summit as another peak on the opposite side of the crater rim also looks equally tall.

The yellow substance in the above photo is sulphur. Near the summits, there are many such sulphur producing vents, which was mined on a small scale in the past.

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