Totally off the tourist trail, mostly unknown even to Indonesian travelers, the hot springs of Sipoholon are beautiful. It's a relatively large area covered in geysers, colorful ponds, steaming brooks, and little cascades. This is quite rare even for Indonesia, a country straddling the Ring of Fire - most geothermal springs are simple outlets of hot water. Unfortunately, the geysers of Sipoholon are being transformed into public swimming pools on one end and mined for fertilizer on another. At this rate, alas, they won't last much longer. This year and maybe the next one, you have the last chance to see at least some of their natural beauty.
The best parts of Sipoholon look like Yellowstone in miniature, but that's not evident at first. Accidentally, the landscape is divided into clearly defined sections. First, right by the road, behind the collection of restaurants and swimming pools, comes an area adapted for tourists. It's pretty miserable, with former hot waterfalls now dry and covered in graffiti, piles of garbage everywhere, and groups of locals taking selfies on this post-apocalyptic background. There are already half a dozen swimming pools by the road, catering to the occasional driver in the absence of travelers. Climb higher up the hill, and you'll see a track brutally blazed through brooks and natural rock formations, topped by a bunch of bulldozers. The workers claim this is a separate operation - not to construct yet another swimming pool, but to mine the minerals for fertilizer.
Cross the devastated zone, and enter the first intact part. A few geysers are already dry, but soon you'll see a pink one surrounded by the stepped pool it creates, and a yellow-green brook of boiling water. Two more pools follow, one with a visible geyser, while the other one must be fed by an underwater source. Follow the trail through woods and into the fields - there will be no more geysers, but lots of little ponds and creeks, coming in pink, green and azure colors. Exploration may result in finding more spots of geothermal activity. All in all, Sipoholon is well worth a special visit, and definitely makes a good stopover if you're already traveling south from Toba Lake.
Sipoholon hot springs are located right next to the Trans-Sumatran highway. Don't let the name fool you, it's a narrow potholed road winding slowly between the forested hills of North Sumatra, but if you choose to travel by land, there's no better alternative anyway. The hot springs area is, in fact, not far from the popular tourist attraction, Toba Lake, but since the traffic is slow, expect to spend half a day there, if using public transport. Minibusses run the length of the highway with no schedule, roughly one per hour. There's one guesthouse in Sipoholon, a friendly, cheap and basic place to crash with its own hot-water swimming pool. Simple restaurants line the rest of the parking ground. Each of those also has a pool attached. There's a small charge to soak in those public pools, but no entrance fee to the natural area. Soon, it seems, there will be nothing to enter anyway - if you want to see the geysers of Sipoholon, this is your last chance.
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