Transportation on Lake Toba

How to Get There

If you travel from outside North Sumatra, you may choose to arrive at the Kualanamu International Airport (airport code: KNO) in Medan or the Silangit Airport (airport code: DTB) at Siborongborong, North Tapanuli. Siborongborong is a small town just 30 minutes away from the lake’s shore. But DTB is still a domestic airport, so inbound foreign travelers would have to get to KNO first then transit by a 30-minute connecting domestic flight to DTB and then 30-minute land transportation to the destination on Lake Toba. Alternatively, they can transfer by rental cars straight from KNO to Lake Toba. The ground transportation from KNO to Lake Toba takes about 5 hours.

DTB is due to become an international airport by October 28, 2017, so overseas travelers will be able to fly straight to Siborongborong from available departure points, most likely Kuala Lumpur and Singapore. It would remove any hassle of local transit.

If you travel from within North Sumatra, you can take local transportation straight to any of the 8 locations by private car or bus.

Local Transportation

Lake Toba is a remote location. 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 on Lake Toba. There is a public shuttle service between DTB and the Onan Baru Pangururan bus terminal on Samosir 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 new toll road from Medan to Tebingtinggi (covering a third of the path between Medan and Parapat on Lake Toba) is still under construction. In contrast, the ride from DTB to Lake Toba is short and fun.

International Flights

International flights to and from KNO in Medan are available via one of the following cities (ranked based on business):

Rank Destination Frequency
1 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
(All Airports)
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
4 Bangkok, Thailand
(All Airports)
7 Indonesia Air Asia

You can get to Lake Toba via KNO in Medan by transiting in Kuala Lumpur, Penang, Singapore, or Bangkok. You may also transit in Jakarta, Batam, and Denpasar. Book your flights first before booking any accommodations

Domestic Flights

Domestic flights to and from Silangit are available via Medan 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 Wing Air, Susi Air, Sriwijaya Air, and Garuda Indonesia.

Ferry Schedules

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 40,000 (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
1 07.00 08.30 1 08.30 10.00
2 10.00 11.30 2 11.30 13.00
3 13.00 14.30 3 14.30 16.00
4 16.00 17.30 4 17.45 19.15
5 19.30 21.00 5 21.00 22.30

Public Transportation

Taxis and trains are available from the arrival terminal at KNO. Online taxis such as Grab and G0-Jek (local Uber-type riding services) are also available. The trains can take you up to Pematangsiantar, i.e., halfway to Lake Toba. From there you will have to catch a bus.

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 arrival hall. The fare varies from Rp 150.000 (US$ 11) 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 behavior 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.

Geo-position services (GPS) on Google Maps and Waze work well in most areas, except in isolated locations within the mountainous landscape of Lake Toba. You can rely on GPS for local driving. 

Bike rentals are also available at bike stands near some hotels. You will enjoy the most of Lake Toba by bike.

Getting Lost

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.

Wheelchair Accessibility

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.