Pulau Samosir at Lake Toba, Indonesia

View of Lake Toba at Samosir Island in Sumatra

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Roughly the size of Singapore, Pulau Samosir (Samosir Island) is a peaceful island situated within Sumatra's Lake Toba, the largest volcanic lake in the world.

Pulau Samosir was formed by the cone of a new volcano that rose up thousands of feet from the lake floor. Today, the island offers some fresh air, relaxation, and indigenous culture for travelers in Indonesia looking for interesting places away from Bali.

With gorgeous scenery, freshwater swimming in a naturally heated lake, and friendly Batak people, Pulau Samosir is the kind of hard-to-leave place that destroys itineraries. The island is rarely busy, although North Sumatra does attract more tourism than West Sumatra.

Orientation

The primary tourist area on Pulau Samosir is a knob of land jutting from the northeast side of the island known as Tuk-tuk. A single road runs around Tuk-tuk in a complete circle; the village can be circumnavigated in around an hour on foot. One main road circles Pulau Samosir while many poorly maintained roads crisscross throughout the island interior.

Tuk-tuk can be reached by boat from Parapat; ferries run regularly from the mainland and drop passengers at the guesthouses of their choice. Many places to stay around Lake Toba have their own piers where the ferry will stop.

Much to the shock of backpackers arriving by boat, guesthouses on Pulau Samosir tend to be large, resort-like affairs with rooms offering beautiful views of the lake. Don't be put off by the sanitized appearance: Clean rooms with a lake view can usually be found for between $7 - 15 per night!

Things to Do on Samosir Island

There are many things to do at Lake Toba. Aside from the obvious allure of swimming in pleasant, volcano-heated water, Pulau Samosir is home to a fascinating indigenous group known as the Bataks. The Batak people are among some of the friendliest people you'll meet in Indonesia. Saying a simple "hello" will often lead to unexpected friendships. Guitar jams and impromptu singing parties are a daily occurrence around the island. Pulau Samosir is the perfect locale for interacting with locals; all are far more welcoming in modern times than their cannibalistic, headhunting ancestors once were!

Samosir Cottages puts on a Batak performance with traditional music and dancing every Saturday night.

Grabbing a motorbike to explore ancient Batak ruins and villages dotted around the island is certainly an unforgettable adventure.

Pulau Samosir Essentials

ATMs can be found scattered in Tomok and Ambarita, around three miles northwest on the main road from the entrance gate to Tuk-tuk. The ATMs often run out of cash or are broken for weeks at a time—bring enough local currency with you!

Internet access can be found in a few cafes, or some of the larger guesthouses have Wi-Fi for customers. If your smartphone is unlocked, you may be better off getting an Indonesian SIM card.

The voltage on Pulau Samosir is 220 volts with the round, two-pronged European-style plugs. Most devices with a transformer (e.g., laptops) or USB charger (e.g., smartphones) will work fine. Hair dryers, curling irons, or any device that won't work with dual voltage will need a converter.

The neighboring village of Tomok (around three miles southeast of Tuk-tuk) is the place for souvenir shopping. Be warned: Many of the items claimed to be made locally are unfortunately not. Just because a proprietor has wood chips on their shop floor doesn't mean the carvings were done there instead of China.

Pulau Samosir is the place to eat your fill of freshwater fish. Try Jenny's Restaurant for the nightly grilled fish. Along with fish from the lake, you'll find lots of delicious Indonesian food.

Getting Around Samosir Island

You won't find many tuk-tuks, the iconic vehicle seen throughout Asia, on Tuk-tuk. Instead, you'll need to walk, bike, or take a scooter around the island.

Pulau Samosir is one of the most scenic and enjoyable places to ride a motorbike in all of Indonesia. Motorbike is the best way to bounce between small Batak sites of interest; most of the road around the island is in fair condition. A rental is negotiable based on the number of days you keep it but typically costs around $7 per day. If you're lucky, the petrol will even be included. Helmet laws are not strictly enforced on Pulau Samosir, but you should wear one for obvious reasons.

Alternatively, public minibuses sporadically ply the main road around the island; flag one down and pay based on the distance traveled. The cramped minibuses will drop you at the entrance of Tuk-tuk. Depending on where you stay, you may need to walk two miles or more from the gate to your guesthouse if you can't catch a ride on a motorbike.

Getting to Pulau Samosir

Pulau Samosir is roughly five hours by minibus, depending on the tenacity of your driver, from Medan. Travelers arrive at the harbor in the port town of Parapat. Ferries leave Parapat every hour until 6 or 7 p.m. Boats conveniently circulate Pulau Samosir and drop people at the larger guesthouses and resorts around the island.

If coming from Bukit Lawang, private cars (around $15) leave every morning starting around 8 a.m. The journey takes close to eight hours.

When to Go

The summer months are typically the driest for Lake Toba and Pulau Samosir. ​July is the peak of high season, but even the busiest month doesn't feel so busy on the tranquil island.

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