It’s not hard to find things to do in Lake Toba. Whether you’re a thrill seeker or a chill seeker, you’ll find something to float your boat here (quite literally, actually.)
The problem for most travellers is lacking the time to really explore a destination. If you’ve got a few weeks to spare, you can wander around and discover the best spots yourself. But it’s more likely you’ll only have a few days to get the most from your trip.
Luckily for you (and us!), we’ve had the pleasure of spending weeks or months at a time soaking up the Batak vibes in Lake Toba over the last five years. We’ve discovered all our favourite things to do in Lake Toba, and share some of our top activities with you below.
If you need more inspo and info on Lake Toba, visit our Ultimate Guide to Lake Toba.
Meanwhile, in this insider’s guide, we share our favourite things to do in Lake Toba; where to eat, what to see, and where to go to have an unforgettable time.
1) Catch the live music at Roy’s Pub
Our top thing to do in Lake Toba is to hang out with the gang at Roy’s Pub for some live music.
Roy’s Pub is a Samosir Island icon; a rustic, loveable, and cool-without-even-trying venue that makes you feel right at home the minute you walk in the door.
The pub itself is open every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday night. Often, Tuesdays are a bit quieter but no less enjoyable. On these nights, you’re more likely to hear a lot of local or acoustic music, but requests are welcome.
For a bit more of a boogie, head out there on Saturday nights. You’ll hear everything from Bruno Mars and Queen to Metallica and Led Zeppelin – with local tunes and blues thrown in for good measure.
Jajabi Band is the in-house band, but there are often guest musicians. You can make requests or even get up on stage if you fancy yourself a star.
Even if you’re not there on live music nights, there’s a super-cute outdoor bar area out the front which is open in the afternoons/evenings the rest of the week. Often, you’ll find band members having a jam with their acoustic guitars.
We’ve spent many a fantastic night at Roy’s Pub. It’s friendly and safe – even for solo female travellers, so put it at the top of your list!
Check them out on Facebook here: Roy’s Pub
Make sure you stop in and say hi – tell them Charlie and Agung sent you!
2) Get some cat cuddles at the Lake Toba Cat Garden
When strolling around Tuktuk, you’ll meet an endless variety of fat, friendly, healthy dogs. But you may notice there are not many cats, and those you do see are often a bit feral and afraid of humans.
One man is doing his best to help the kitties of Tuk Tuk. Known as Uncle Bond, this amazing man uses his own money to rescue and care for dozens of cats and kittens at his homestay.
If you’re missing your cat at home or simply want to support someone doing great work, pop in and visit. If you’re feeling generous, pick up some cat food on your way to Lake Toba – or bring a bag of fish or chicken for the cats! Every little bit helps.
Lake Toba Cat Garden is also a very affordable homestay, so if you fancy hanging out somewhere where the cat cuddles are frequent and free, this is your spot.
Volunteers are welcome here too. Uncle Bond offers a free room for those that can help feed and medicate the cats, maintain the garden and house, or help with social media or online jobs.
This is one of the best things to do in Lake Toba for animal lovers.
3) Eat a pizza at Jenny’s
There’s no shortage of quality restaurants in Tuk Tuk, and no shortage of pizza places either! Unlike many areas of Sumatra, the cheese isn’t made of plastic and the pizzas are delicious. As huge pizza fans, we’ve tried many spots in Tuk Tuk, and Jenny’s remains our favourite.
It’s not just the pizza though, all the food at Jenny’s is delicious, and it’s got quite a name for itself – particularly for the seafood.
Foodies looking for things to do in Lake Toba should try and eat here at least once. There’s free wifi and even cocktails, so wander over and peruse the menu!
4) Sample the local tuak
If you’re observant, you’ll probably notice that most of the men in Tuk Tuk disappear from around 5 pm until late. It’s a daily ritual that sees them all congregate at the local tuak bars to drink this distinctive alcoholic beverage.
While we’re not suggesting that every tourist should invite themselves to one of these watering holes, if you’re lucky enough to get an invite, take the opportunity. You’ll find a welcoming community enjoying a drink and often singing some beautiful Batak songs.
What is tuak? It’s palm wine, which is consumed throughout most of Sumatra. Basically, it’s the sap collected from a kind of palm tree and fermented. Granted, for many, it’s an acquired taste (I compare it to dirty socks and stale beer, but others genuinely love it, so don’t take my word for it!)
I’m told that by the end of the second glass you’ll develop a taste for it. Personally, I’ve never been able to get past the first two sips. But many people enjoy it, and it is certainly a rite of passage when experiencing authentic Sumatra.
Ask a friendly local if you can buy some. Don’t be surprised when it’s delivered to you in a plastic bag; this is the standard method of delivery.
A word to the wise: tuak is quite strong and can be a bit harsh on the old gut, so if you’re not a regular drinker, start off slowly with this one!
5) Get the best views in Tuk Tuk from Reggae Guesthouse
One of our favourite things to do in Lake Toba is stare mesmerised out across that enormous expanse of water. The best spot to do this in Tuk Tuk is from the restaurant balcony at Reggae Guesthouse.
We think this place has the best views on the peninsula. Not only can you see out to the horizon, but the sheltered bay on one side framed by bougainvillea blooms is so beautiful it looks like someone dreamed it up.
We always stay at this guesthouse when we visit Tuktuk. The room views are just as stunning, and it’s a peaceful, idyllic area.
Drop in here – particularly at sunset – grab a beer, and soak up the serenity. Make sure you tell Auntie that Charlie and Agung said hi. And if you’re a fan of tofu – order the tofu sambal; it’s out of this world.
6) Hire a scooter and get lost
Samosir Island is a haven for scooter drivers. A good many roads in Sumatra are for the very brave (crazy) – or experienced rider only – or those with a death wish. But the roads on Samosir are generally quiet and calm.
Over the last few years, many of the major roads have been repaired and fixed up, so they’re easy to navigate even for beginners.
You can pick up a scooter in Tuktuk for around 70,000-100,000 per day, and just follow your nose. If you have buns of steel, head around the entire island. It’ll probably take you a good 5 or 6 hours with stops along the way.
Do wear helmets; there are police stops around Samosir and helmets are required. Plus, there are still a lot of erratic drivers here. Take it slow, use the horn frequently, and enjoy the journey.
You can find a plethora of things to do in Lake Toba when you have your own set of wheels. As well as getting to some of the sites listed here, just take the opportunity to explore!
Choose those roads that aren’t shown on Google Maps and go on an adventure. This is a safe thing to do in Lake Toba, and you’ll get a genuine glimpse into authentic life on the island, as well as the most spectacular scenery.
7) Head to the hills above Tomok
Shoot through the tourist-oriented main street of Tomok and head up the mountain. The scenery is gorgeous. You’ll see buffalos lounging in mud baths, rice fields to rival the best in Bali, pine tree forests, Batak architecture, waterfalls, and more.
There are plenty of viewpoints to stop off and appreciate the enormous lake sprawling below. (You can also visit Lake Sidihoni up here, but it’s not that spectacular, and only worth it if you’re dying to say you visited a lake on an island in a lake on an island!)
Tip – Bring a warm, long-sleeved top or sarong and a raincoat. It can get chilly up there!
8) Visit King Sidabutur’s Tomb
This site ain’t got nothing on the Great Pyramids of Egypt, but it’s an interesting place to stop at if you’re in the area, which you probably will be.
King Sidabutur was, according to legend, the first man to arrive on Samosir Island. He’s literally the original Batak man! His carved tomb can be seen alongside other tombstones in this small cemetery.
There is very little signage explaining what you see, so you’ll probably get more out of the experience if you bring a local guide to talk you through the history.
You’ll find the cemetery of the Batak King and his clan in Tomok, a short walk up the hill from the main jetty.
9) Explore the shoreline past Ambarita
Enjoy a less hilly ride when you head in the other direction to Tomok. You’ll pass stunning churches, traditional Batak houses, deserted “beaches,” and buckets more culture.
For more touristy things to do in Lake Toba, visit Pasir Putih (White Sand Beach) and the Batak Museum at Simanindo. You can catch a show here to see traditional dancing and learn more about the culture.
10) Visit Huta Siallagan and the Stone Chairs
When you pass through Ambarita, you’ll see the ancient Siallagan village, now a tourist attraction.
Surrounded by a stone wall, the village contains several traditional houses, but most notably, chairs and a table carved out of stone.
These stone artifacts – or Batu Parsidangan – are an estimated two centuries old. One of the sets was used as a meeting place, the other for official executions. Again, this is quite a touristy little spot, but that doesn’t take away from the rich history contained within.
As far as Batak history goes, this is one of the more interesting – and gruesome – sites you can visit. You won’t need much time there, but squeeze it in as part of your itinerary to learn about the cannibalistic past of the Batak people.
11) Go waterfall hunting
There are several notable waterfalls in Lake Toba, but visiting one might be a bit weather dependent. At certain times of year, the waterfalls in the immediate area disappear entirely. Even after a couple of days with no rain, some of them may be nothing more than a trickle.
From the famous – and massive – Sipisopiso on the way to Lake Toba to Situmurun Waterfall which cascades from the mainland into the lake, there are endless options for the waterfall lover in you.
Follow your nose or ask around to find them, or head across to our Best Waterfalls in Lake Toba guide – coming soon!
12) Say ‘Lissoi’ at Bagus Bay
Grab a table and a Bintang (or tuak) at Bagus Bay in Tuk Tuk and watch their traditional singing and dancing shows. While in some places these kinds of shows can be kind of corny, it’s not the case here.
You’ll see girls in Batak garb performing dances, accompanied by the band who play on traditional instruments. Be prepared to get up and join in – it’s nothing complicated, so shouldn’t be too painful!
Following the dance performance, the charismatic band will launch into some rousing songs. The best is the drinking song ‘Lissoi.’
“Lissoi” is the Batak equivalent of “Cheers,” or “Bottoms Up.” After the show, throw some of your spare rupiah into the donation box in appreciation.
Shows should happen on Wednesday and Saturday nights, depending on demand. Check the blackboard in front of the restaurant for confirmation.
13) Hit the lake
With such an expanse of clear, fresh water just waiting for you to dive in, it’d almost be rude not to enjoy it, don’t you think!? Whether you launch yourself into the mirrored waters on a rope swing, gently paddle around the shore on a kayak, or truly destroy the serenity by being towed behind a speedboat on a giant inflatable, the lake is yours for the taking.
Most homestays will either have a kayak or stand up paddleboard for you to hire, or direct you to somewhere that does. The same goes for jet skis and speedboats.
For a slightly more serene water experience, there are cruises that sedately explore the lake on the larger, colourful boats. Often, they’ll have live music and food provided as part of the experience. Ask your homestay, or pop into Jenny’s Restaurant to ask about their tour; although it is dependent on numbers.
14) Visit Tele Tower (Menara Pandang Tele)
You’ll have to go a bit further afield for this one, but if you have time, it’s well worth the journey. Tele Tower is a stunning viewpoint over on the mainland, and the journey there is every bit as awe-inspiring as the landscapes on arrival.
Take a scooter if your butt can handle it, or hire a car and driver to head across to the mainland from Pangururan. You’ll climb twisting and turning mountainous roads and won’t be able to resist stopping at least a few times on the way for incredible photo ops.
Once at the top, the eagles-eye view of the lake and surrounding areas from the three-level tower are gorgeous.
15) Take a hike
Lake Toba is a hiker’s dream – in theory. Those incredible natural surroundings will have you lacing up your sneakers and looking for the nearest trail. Which is kind of the problem; there aren’t a lot of clearly marked trails, and very little info out there on where to go.
However, the local community in Tuk Tuk are working hard to change that! Over the last year, Annette from the lovely Tabo Cottages has been hard at work identifying and planning hikes and putting signage up in the area.
We recommend popping in to chat with her or her team to find info on suitable hikes near Tuk Tuk.
If you want to go further afield, there are several well-trodden options.
Bukit Holbung (Holbung Hill)
This is an Insta-favourite which only takes 10-15 minutes to wander up. You’ll get “Sound of Music” type views, but probably won’t have the place to yourself. You can also camp here. However, it is a fair way away from Tuk Tuk, so if that’s home base, give yourself a few hours to scooter across to the mainland from Pangururan and reach the hill.
Offering more of a challenge, this is a sacred spot, legendary birthplace of the first Batak King. Hiking to the top takes anything from three to five hours, but isn’t a particularly strenuous climb. Again, you’ll need to travel towards Pangururan to start this trek.
Our top 15 list of the best things to do in Lake Toba barely scratches the surface of this mindblowing destination. But you’ve got to start somewhere, and we reckon there’s some great inspiration here to start planning your itinerary.
As we continue to head back year after year and see more of the Lake and surrounding region, we’ll add to our list and make it bigger and better! Have something to add that we’ve missed? Comment below or send us a message so we can check it out too!