Covering the area of 5000 sq km, from the border of Aceh all the way to Lake Toba, Karo Highlands is a vast and quite fertile volcanic plateau, at the heart of the Bukit Barisan mountain range.
The native Karo minority is a subgroup of the formerly headhunting Batak tribes, well-known for their animistic beliefs, ancient rituals and odd customs, amongst which the local funeral and reburial ceremonies are the rarities that attract most of the visitors.
During the colonial era, the Dutch taught the locals how to build pretty wooden houses with striking palm-frond gables, and the traditional Karo architecture slowly blended with the Dutch design. The outcome is one of the main reasons for tourists to pay a visit – the houses here truly are extraordinary.
In the last few decades, several traditional villages have opened to strangers, and for a small fee they can search around and take some pictures, e.g. Peceren, Gurusinga or Lingga Tulu. Eco-tourism is clearly in the limelight.
Berastagi is the gateway to Karo Highlands and Lake Toba, and it is a lovely hill-station with a pleasant atmosphere. The town lies at an altitude of 1220 m which provides fresh air and spectacular views.
The surrounding forests of Berastagi boost natural attraction; Sipiso-Piso & Sikulikap Falls are amongst the highlights. Climbing Gunung Sibayak (2,212 m) and Gunung Sinabunk (2,451 m) is well-recommended to the experienced mountaineers, whereas the Gundaling Hill (1575 m) can be reached by a vehicle or scooter.
There are numerous wonderful walking trails and hot springs in the area and well-developed eco-tourism infrastructure.
ESSENTIAL EXPERIENCES IN THE KARO HIGHLANDS
LAKE TOBA & SAMOSIR ISLAND
Believed to be the world`s largest and deepest caldera, Lake Toba spans over 1.707 sq km and reaches the depth of 529 m. The lake was created by an enormous volcanic eruption more than 74, 000 years ago, it is a giant lake, sitting right at the heart of North Sumatra – in the Samosir Plateau.
Danau Toba is encircled by robust mountains and active volcanoes but also dense forests and swamps, and it is the premier tourist destination in Sumatra.
On the western shores of Lake Toba, a bridge links the legendary Samosir Island with the town of Pangururan – and this is where most of the travellers will want to go. The Island of Samosir, also called ‘Island of the Death’ is culturally and geologically an important part of Danau Toba.
It sits right in the middle of the lake, and it has been home to the Toba Bataks for centuries. The most popular attractions on the island are well-preserved villages and ancient sarcophagi only discovered in the 1930s.
ESSENTIAL EXPERIENCES IN LAKE TOBA & SAMOSIR ISLAND
WHEN TO TRAVEL
The ideal time to travel to North Sumatra is between June and September, during the dry season.
HOW TO GET THERE
Fly to Medan (via Jakarta/Singapore/Kuala Lumpur)
TO GET TO KARO HIGHLANDS: by public bus/minivan from Medan to Berastagi (30 min drive)
TO GET TO DANAU TOBA: by shuttle bus from Medan to Toba Lake (4-5 hr trip)
TO GET TO THE SAMOSIR ISLAND: catch a ferry from the Tigaraja Harbour (Lake Toba). Boats operate every hour until 7 pm, however often irregularly.
For all international flights go to www.momondo.com or www.skyscanner.com
For all domestic Indonesian flights check out www.garuda-indonesia.com
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