This article reflects on the Costa Rican experiences with ecotourism by assessing the positive and negative environmental, economic and social impacts of ecotourism development at four tourist destinations—Manuel Antonio, Monteverde, Tortuguero and ASCOMAFOR. These destinations represent different stages of tourism development. The assessment shows that the development of ecotourism has a dilemma character. Compared to alternative land-use options, ecotourism remains a promising development strategy. However, it should be embedded in a broader process of capacity building.