Lake Toba, Indonesia

Lake Locations:

Indonesia -

Also known as:  Danau Toba

If you yearn for an exotic locale, you couldn’t find one better than Lake Toba. Located in the province of North Sumatra in Indonesia, Lake Toba is the largest permanent lake in Southeast Asia. The lake is the result of a supervolcano about 75,000 years ago, believed to be the largest volcanic explosion on earth. Lake Toba is the largest volcanic crater lake in the world, covering almost 272,000 acres. Much of its area is taken up by the island of Samosir, 267 square miles of mountainous terrain, Batak villages, holiday rentals, lush tropical forests and freshwater lakes. Samosir is nearly a world of its own – a large island with small lakes, in the middle of huge Lake Toba, on the island nation of Indonesia. Many who visit Lake Toba describe it as the most beautiful place in the world, with lush green jungles and mountains, sparkling lakes, breathtaking waterfalls and exotic birds and animals robed in riotous tropical colors.

Most visitors fly to Medan and then travel by land to Parapat on the shores of Lake Toba. Parapat is a prime tourist town, occupying a small rocky peninsula jutting into the lake. A large number of excellent lodging accommodations are located in the area, and the town boasts a great number of small shops and eating establishments. Shops sell an array of Batak textiles, ceramics, wood carvings, and handicrafts with the occasional genuine antique mixed in. Purchasers are expected to haggle over the price, so stated prices are usually high. Here the visitor can enjoy such local treats as Ting Ting and Tong Tong (peanut and sesame sticks), satay and ginger tea.

Parapat offers swimming, water skiing, motor boating, canoeing, fishing and golf. Fishing excursions can be arranged for tilapia, catfish and several lesser-known local species, many of which would look right at home in the tropical aquarium. Lake cruises are a favorite activity for tourists, as the wonders of the rugged shoreline can be observed without the effort of hiking in the high humidity. The altitude at Lake Toba – over 2950 feet – and cooling breezes off the lake help tourists escape the oppressive humidity of the lowlands, making a visit to Lake Toba much more pleasant. Of the more than 200 brooks and rivers that empty into the lake, only 70 run year-round. The shallower bays are warm for swimming, but much of the lake is quite cold due to the great depth.

Most visitors to Lake Toba take one of the regularly scheduled ferry boats to Samosir Island. A favored destination is the village of TukTuk, a regular ferry destination. TukTuk is a village geared to tourists, with holiday rentals and hotels of every description. Guest houses and cottages are plentiful; traditional Batak stilt-houses can even be rented. The small town is filled with shops and market stalls selling local handicrafts and food. Many of the hotels have either swimming pools or beachfront swimming areas for guest use. Here, too, guests can enjoy sailing, fishing and water sports. Samosir has become world-famous for paragliding from the steep cliffs overlooking the lake.

Many holiday rentals and hotels around Lake Toba will rent bicycles for guest use, as there are no taxis at TukTuk. Another favorite way to get around is to rent a motor scooter. These small motorized bikes are a common and economical method of transportation on the island. Without one, the visitor will need to sign on to a regular tour to visit the interior and the fascinating villages of the native Batak. The island was originally an isthmus on the west side, but under Dutch rule a channel was cut through to facilitate shipping. The road across the causeway is known to be in poor condition, but many enjoy a visit to the hot springs on the western side of the island just across the causeway from Pangururan. The water is very hot, so care should be exercised. Much of the island and surrounding land are farmed for coffee, rubber, tobacco, palm oil and tea.

The local people around Lake Toba welcome tourists and are willing to let visitors observe their villages and culture. Most still live in traditional three-story saddle-roofed houses on stilts which are decorated with colorful painted carvings on the posts and roof trees. Local guides inform visitors that the ground floor is for rearing poultry, the second floor is for adults and is divided into two areas for men and women, and the top floor is for children. The Batak people dye traditional brightly-colored cloth which is used in their ceremonial dances. This cloth can be purchased from enterprising villagers. The culture has elaborate funeral traditions, and many villages have massive stone burial vaults that hold the bones of their ancestors. The stone tombs of past tribal kings are located on the island and maintained regularly by the population.

Sumatra proudly proclaims itself the original “Jungle Book”. Sumatra is home to tigers, leopards, orangutan, elephants, rhinos, bears, tapirs, hundreds of monkeys, and giant snakes. It is one of the last places on earth to see the Sun Bear, majestic Sumatran tiger or leopards, the Pocket Sumatran Elephants and Rhinos, and a variety of birds and mammals that exist nowhere else. No trip to Sumatra would be complete without a trip to Gunung Leuser National Park, a two hour bus trip from Madan where many of these exotic animals are found. Those with an urge toward adventure can join organized hikes or strike out on their own. Again, the rental scooter will allow freedom of movement to enjoy the many sights. The Batak locals are friendly and always glad to help a tourist find their way, often for a small tip.

A holiday at Lake Toba is perfect for relaxing and enjoying an exotic location without undue tourist pressures and rush. Vacation rentals are plentiful. Guest cottages and hostels can be found off the beaten track for a more authentic native experience. Many hotels provide wireless internet, so visitors can start making left-behind friends and family envious from the moment they arrive by sending emails and pictures. Real estate may be hard to find and purchase arrangements complicated, but those lucky enough to have settled here don’t appear to miss their ‘civilized’ past one bit. So, go native. Enjoy Lake Toba. It will change your outlook on life forever.

Things to do at Lake Toba

  • Vacation Rentals
  • Fishing
  • Boating
  • Sailing
  • Swimming
  • Swimming Pool
  • Canoeing
  • Water Skiing
  • Golf
  • Hiking
  • Biking
  • Waterfall
  • Wildlife Viewing
  • Birding
  • National Park
  • Antiquing

Fish species found at Lake Toba

  • Catfish
  • Tilapia

Lake Toba Photo Gallery

Lake Toba Statistics & Helpful Links

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Lake Type: Natural Freshwater Lake, Not Dammed

Surface Area: 271,816 acres

Shoreline Length: 150 miles

Normal Elevation (Full Pond): 2,969 feet

Maximum Depth: 1,736 feet

Drainage Area: 1,328 sq. miles

Trophic State: Oligotrophic

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Trophic State | LakeLubbers

Trophic State measures the level of algae and nutrients in a lake.

An oligotrophic lake is very clear (blue in color) and does not support much plant or fish life. A hyper-oligotrophic lake is the clearest of all lakes, and is nearly devoid of plants and fish.

A mesotrophic lake is slightly green and supports a moderate degree of plant and fish life. A lake's most desired trophic state is generally this mid-point - the mesotrophic state.

A eutrophic lake is somewhat murky and supports a large amount of plant and fish life. A hypereutrophic lake is clouded with algae, plant life, and fish life. A eutrophic or hyper-eutrophic lake can be difficult to navigate by boat - and is often an unpleasant place to swim.

The use of phosphorus-rich and nitrogen-rich fertilizer on lawns and golf courses surrounding a lake can cause it to become eutrophic or hypereutrophic.


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Catchment or Drainage Area | LakeLubbers

This is the surrounding area that drains into a lake, including land, rivers and their tributaries. This is also known as the lake's "catchment basin".

Small lakes at the highest peaks of mountains have small drainage areas. The world's oceans have the largest drainage areas.


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Lake-Area Population | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated number of people who live in a house with a view of a lake, plus those who self-describe the lake as their home, for example: "I live at Smith Mountain Lake."


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Water Residence Time | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated time that it takes for an amount of water equal to the entire volume of a lake to flow out of - or evaporate from - the lake.

Residence Time can be as short as a few days for fast-flowing small lakes, and can exceed 100 years for slow-flowing large lakes.


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Completion Year | LakeLubbers

This is the year that a reservoir was first filled to the reservoir's normal elevation - or the year that a natural lake was first dammed. A large reservoir can take more than a year to fill after its dam is first closed.

The Grand Anicut in southern India is generally considered the world's oldest dam that still operates. Grand Anicut was constructed in the second century BC. It now impounds an irrigation network that includes roughly one million acres.

You can find many of the the world's newest reservoirs on LakeLubbers. Many of the world's oldest reservoirs appear on the last page of that list.


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Water Volume | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated volume of water that a lake contains -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. By this measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal.

You can find many of the the world's largest lakes (by water volume) on LakeLubbers.

Water Volume can be measured in acre-feet, in cubic miles, or in cubic kilometers. One acre-foot is the amount of water needed to cover one acre (43,560 square feet) to a depth of one foot. One cubic mile equals 3,379,200 acre-feet. One cubic kilometer equals 810,713 acre-feet.

1 acre-foot is equal to 325,851 US gallons. Siberia's Lake Baikal contains about 6,276,367,740,000,000 gallons of freshwater - nearly 1 million gallons for every living person on earth.

The other - and more widely used - measure of a lake's size is the lake's surface acreage. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is North America's Lake Superior.


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Maximum Depth | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated greatest depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. The world's deepest lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal; that lake's maximum depth is estimated at 5,314 feet.

You can find many of the the world's deepest lakes on LakeLubbers. If you select the last page of that list, you will find the (maximum depth of) the shallowest lakes in our database.


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Average Depth | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated average depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. If the water volume and surface area of a lake are known, an estimate of the lake's average depth can be calculated:

Water volume ÷ Surface Area = Average Depth

Example: 1,000,000 acre-feet ÷ 20,000 acres = 50 feet average depth


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Maximum Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's highest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can occur during flooding. A lake's highest possible maximum elevation is usually the top of the lake's dam or spillway.

At lakes that include residential development, government regulations usually forbid the construction of homes below a lake's maximum elevation.


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Minimum Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's lowest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can be reasonably expected to occur. Low lake levels can occur due to deliberate seasonal draw downs for irrigation or impending snow melt, reduced water inflows, drought and evaporation, residential or commercial water demands, and hydropower generation.

Some lakes' minimum and maximum elevations are virtually the same. Lakes that generate hydropower may vary by several feet - according to power demand. Lakes whose primary purpose is to prevent flooding can seasonally vary by 100 feet or more.

When some lakes reach their minimum elevation, their boat ramps may not be long enough to permit boat access - and boats docked on shallow parts of the lake may end up on dry ground. In those cases, kayakers and shore-based anglers may be among the few happy recreational users of the lake.


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Normal Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's normal water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level. For a reservoir, this water level is also known as "full pond" or "full pool".

You can find many of the world's highest-elevated lakes on LakeLubbers. Lakes with the lowest elevations (known by LakeLubbers) are shown on the final page of that list.


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Shoreline Length | LakeLubbers

This is the length of the exterior shoreline around a lake - measured at the lake's normal elevation. The shoreline length can be considerably shorter or longer when lake water levels are lower or higher than normal.

A lake with many coves has a much longer shoreline than a lake of similar surface area that is nearly circular in shape.

When known, the shoreline miles that we report in our statistics include only the lake's exterior shoreline, and exclude the shorelines of islands located within a lake's boundaries. In lakes with many islands, those islands' combined shorelines may exceed a lake's exterior shoreline.

You can find many of the world's longest-shoreline lakes on Lakelubbers.


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Surface Area | LakeLubbers

This is the area (acreage, square kilometers, etc.) of the top surface area of a lake - measured at a lake's normal elevation. The surface area can be considerably smaller or larger when lake levels are lower or higher than normal. North America's Lake Superior is the world's largest freshwater lake by this measure.

The other measure of a lake's size is the lake's water volume. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Lake Baikal in Siberia.

You can find many of the world's largest lakes (acres) on Lakelubbers. There is no widely-accepted minimum surface area that defines a lake. What Lakelubbers describes as a lake, you might call a pond. The smallest lake that Lakelubbers currently includes is Hawaii's 2-acre Lake Waiau.


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Water Level Control | LakeLubbers

This is the organization that controls water releases or outflows from the lake or reservoir. In the USA, this is often the US Army Corps of Engineers, a power company, a municipal water system, an irrigation district, or a paper manufacturing company. In the case of private or gated lakes, a homeowners' association may be the lake's controlling authority.

Many lakes cross borders, including North America's Great Lakes. The control of such lakes and their coveted freshwater may be amicably shared - or hotly disputed.

"Water wars" continue at many lakes as growing populations and crop irrigation needs compete for the freshwater that lakes contain.


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Lake Type | LakeLubbers

There are 3 basic types of lakes that are currently included on LakeLubbers. 2 types may be dammed or not dammed, producing 5 classifications.

- A Reservoir is a man-made freshwater lake that is usually created by damming rivers.

- A Natural Freshwater Lake occurs naturally - often by glacial activity - and has a salinity of less than 30 parts per thousand. It may be dammed to produce electricity or for other reasons.

- A Natural Saltwater Lake occurs naturally and has a salinity of more than 30 parts per thousand (ppt). It may be dammed.

"Brackish" water may be categorized as freshwater or saltwater, depending on its salt content (salinity). Oligohaline water has less than 15 ppt of salt. Mesohaline water has 15-29 ppt. Polyhaline has 30-335 ppt.


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