You can see Bali in Lombok, but you can't see Lombok in Bali!

-- Traditional local saying

Often referred to as "Bali, 20 years ago," Lombok is finally coming into its own as a traveler's destination. Bali and Lombok are often called "sister islands," with Lombok taking the role of the shy and beautiful younger sister, overshadowed by her glamorous older sister. While many of the features that make Bali so appealing to visitors also exist on Lombok, the island is a unique and fascinating destination in its own right.

Lombok has a rich and diverse culture, which blends the traditions of the indigenous Sasak people with Balinese Hindu and Arabic influences, to name a few. Many of Lombok's traits and customs are similar to those of Java and Bali, yet its people retain traditions and beliefs unique to the island, particularly in language, cultural performances, celebrations, and the arts. Village life is based on the mainstays of farming and traditional handicraft production. The Sasak people are friendly and relatively unaffected by tourism, with a warm tradition of hospitality to visitors.

At around 5,300 sq. km (2,046 sq. miles), Lombok is only slightly smaller than Bali. The pace on Lombok is unhurried and the atmosphere laid-back. The beaches are uncrowded and tourism enclaves are not marred by high-density development. Although the island has good infrastructure, tourism development only started in the '90s and it has had a slow, steady growth rather than a gold-rush expansion since then.

With the construction of Lombok's first international airport already underway, Lombok is ready to take its place as an international tourism destination. Plans are also underway for a major resort by United Arab Emirates -- investment company Emaar Properties, near Kuta in south Lombok. Though the world economic downturn has tempered the pace of development, don't expect the Lombok you see today to be the same you'll see a decade from now.