Lake Toba Transportation Guide
How to Get There
Lake Toba transporation is a challenge due to the size of the area and distances among its many spots. To cope with the size, there are two international airports that serve Lake Toba area. Currently, Kualanamu International Airport (airport code: KNO) in Medan is the most popular gateway to Lake Toba. But, the ground transportation from KNO to Lake Toba takes about 4 hours. From KNO, rental cars are available as the most convenient option to reach the lake.
Alternatively, you can book a domestic flight to Sisingamangaraja XII International Airport (airport code: DTB) at Siborongborong, North Tapanuli. Siborongborong is a small town just 25 minutes away from the lake’s shore. DTB has become an international airport since October 28, 2017. But, international flights on this airport are currently suspended due to the lack of traffic. The last international flight was from Singapore.
If you travel from within North Sumatra, you can take buses to most destinations including Parapat and Balige. But, if you want to save time, private or rental cars are the best option.
Lake Toba is a rural area. As such, you will need to deal with commuting carefully. Unlike in other places where you can call the cab or hop on the bus upon arrival, you don’t have such luxury there. There is a public shuttle service between DTB and the Onan Baru Pangururan bus terminal on Samosir that runs a few times daily. But that’s about it. Rental cars are therefore the most attractive solution. You can order one at the desk for car rental on arrival if the providers have vehicles in stock. But there is the risk of not getting to where you want to be on time. Order in advance here.
Prepare for a harsh ride when transferring from KNO to your destinations or getting around the lake because some parts of the road are not smooth (most areas are in fair conditions). A toll road from Medan to Tebingtinggi covers a third of the path between Medan and Parapat. There is ongoing construction of adititional toll road covering another one-third. So, most of the ride uses regular road at the moment. In contrast, the journey from DTB to Lake Toba is short and fun.
International direct flights to and from DTB at Siborongborong used to be available via Singapore. Garuda Indonesia currently serves the Singapore-Siborongborong route via Jakarta and Medan (1 transit). You shall be able to book the flight to Siborongborong from anywhere in the world.
International flights to and from KNO in Medan are available via one of the following cities (ranked based on frequency):
|1||Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
|70||Air Asia, Indonesia Air Asia, Malaysia Airlines, Malindo Air, Lion Air|
|2||Penang, Malaysia||52||Air Asia, Indonesia Air Asia, Lion Air, Sriwijaya Air|
|3||Singapore||31||Garuda Indonesia, Jetstar Asia Airways, Silk Air|
|7||Indonesia Air Asia|
You can get to Lake Toba via KNO in Medan by transiting in the above cities. You may also transit via other Indonesian international airports such as those in Jakarta, Batam, and Bali. Book your flights first before booking any accommodations.
Domestic flights to and from DTB are available via Medan, Gunung Sitoli (Nias island), and Jakarta only. For example, if you wish to travel from Bali to Lake Toba via DTB, then your flight will transit in either Medan or Jakarta. Jakarta is the capital city of Indonesia. The domestic flights are currently available on Citilink, Garuda Indonesia, Sriwijaya Air, Susi Air, and Wings Air. Garuda is the most favorite airliner but also the most expensive.
You can cross the lake by ferry to get to Samosir island from Ajibata, near Parapat. Here is the timetable (local time) of ferry crossings to and from Samosir between the main ports, i.e., Tomok and Ajibata. The fare for an adult is Rp 4,000 (US$ 0.30) and for a car is Rp 106,000 (US$ 7.85).
(Schedule may change subject to conditions and situations at the ports.)
|FROM TOMOK||FROM AJIBATA|
Trains are available from the arrival terminal at KNO. They can take you up to Pematangsiantar, i.e., halfway to Lake Toba. From there you will have to catch a bus.
Taxis such as BlueBird and online taxis such as Grab and Go-Jek are also available. They are excellent for your short trips; otherwise, the fares could be unaffordable. Uber used to be an option as well. But it no longer operates in Indonesia.
Buses are also available at KNO and Medan. If you want to go from Medan to Parapat by bus, transfer first by taxi (or commuter bus) to one of the two central bus stations in Medan, i.e., Sisingamangaraja road and Pinang Baris station. The buses will leave for Parapat when they get enough passengers (i.e., no fixed schedule of departure).
Public transportation is safe. But, if you are concerned about safety, Blue Bird taxis (look for the logo, not just color of the cabs) and private rental cars are the way to go. Blue Bird is known for excellent service. To grab a taxi, you need to go to the taxi lane outside the arrival hall at KNO. If you are on streets, raise your hand to stop a cab.
There is no metered taxi at DTB. If you need a ride to your accommodations, there is a desk for car rental outside the terminal. The fare varies from Rp 200,000 (US$ 15) to Rp 400,000 (US$ 30) depending on your destination. The desk staff will determine it for you. The rental company is CV Tapanuli Trans.
Driving & Getting Around
Driving in Indonesia is on the left-hand side (driver seat is on the right-hand side.) Driver license issued in most countries are as good locally. But due to the aggressive behaviors of many local drivers, you may want to avoid driving there altogether. Private drivers are widely available, and their wage is only around Rp 200,000 (US$ 15) per day.
Google Maps work well in most areas, except in isolated locations or mountainous terrains. You can rely on GPS for local driving.
Bike rentals are also available at bike stands near or at some hotels. You will enjoy the sightseeing by bike.
If you get lost while your GPS does not work, the easiest way to get help is to write down on your phone pad (or a piece of paper) your hotel name and give it to local people. Storekeepers or hotel staff near you are the best strangers to approach.
People with physical challenges should take private rental cars only upon their arrival at the airports. Both airports are friendly accessible by wheelchairs, but the rural and mountainous terrain of Lake Toba is not. The car should continue to accompany them at all times during the tours. Some attractions are also accessible for them up to the front gates.
See also Money & Banks on Lake Toba.