– If you can ride a motorbike then Samosir Island will be at your command, having never driven a motorbike we had to opt for bicycles and it takes a lot longer to get around. We cycled to a nearby town known as Ambarita, that was quite a picturesque and easy ride.
It seems that Samosir Island was a haven for tourists in the 1970s and 1980s as there is no shortage of guesthouses, restaurants, magic mushroom facilities, etc. We went in the ‘high’ season for domestic tourists and I am not sure if it would get much busier than that. If that was the high season then it was a pretty chilled and quiet place because there were hardly any people around. You can swim in the lake, take a ride on some jet skis or banana boats.
Having seen some beautiful lakes in New Zealand, I do not think the effort is worth it to get down there from Medan, maybe I would think differently if I could ride a motorbike. You cannot get around easily without one.
Getting to Lake Toba
There are many public buses from Amplas bus station to the south of Medan central that take about six-seven hours. You can get to Amplas quite easily with a becak from whatever hotel you are at in Medan.
The bus to Parapat is hot, unpleasant and there are a lot of people packed on to the bus. If you can, take the airconditioned bus or private taxi from Medan to Parapat, the main gateway for Samosir Island in the middle of Danau Toba.
If you want to experience a public bus in Sumatra then save this urge for a trip from Berastagi to Kutacane, where the journey is slightly less traumatic.
However if you insist on taking a public bus from Medan to Parapat it can be done, do not pay for three seats if you are travelling with someone else, for extra ‘space’ because you will inevitably feel guilty about everyone standing up in the aisles and give your seat to someone else. Just pay for your own seat despite the lure of ‘extra-room’ the bus driver promises.
The trip is about 180km but takes 6-7 hours, traffic is pretty terrible coming out of Medan, a sprawling city that continues on for what seems forever. The roads are very good between the two places, so minimal bumps to the toosh!
To get to Samosir Island and your most likely destination, Tuk Tuk, You need to take a ferry from Parapat. There are two terminals one to Tuk Tuk and the other to Tomok. Ensure you are at the Tuk Tuk terminal. The public bus might not drop you at the right one (happened to us). But if you get dropped off at the Tomok ferry terminal like we did, just wait on the road for a public bus because the locals will help you out. Never fear being a stuck bule (white person) because you won’t be standing around long before someone will help you out (maximum 5 minutes wait because you will stand out quite a lot, the backpack and white skin indicate you are not a local) slip the local that gives you a ride some cash, especially as they have helped you out of a sticky situation.
Before you leave Parapat you will need to get cash out if you do not already have some as there are also no working ATMs near Tuk Tuk. There is one in Ambarita but the reliability of it working is minimal. Take cash out before you get on the boat.
Samosir Cottages was pretty reasonable, there are endless amounts of accommodation options on Tuk Tuk. Ranging from 60,000Rp to top end 500,000Rp depending on what you are looking for. The more modern luxurious accommodation is located close to Bagus Bay, but because Tuk Tuk is quite a popular domestic tourist destination, there is no shortage of good accommodation options.