Costa Rica is a small Central American nation that has gained an international reputation as a leader in environmental conservation. This has formed the base for its highly successful and lucrative small-scale ecotourism industry. However, there are threats from high rates of deforestation and expanding large-scale tourism that is trading on strong environmental credentials, so it is appropriate to conduct this policy analysis on such a significant ecotourism area. The paper develops an ecologically sustainable economic framework, drawing on the works of Adolph Lowe (1893-1995) and Michalstrok Kalecki (1899-1970), to examine the Costa Rican experience and then analyse lessons for general policy development of any ecotourism area. The analysis is conducted from a political economy (and not a tourism management) perspective on the trade-offs between small-scale and large-scale ecotourism.