Despite of the clear global environmental benefits of increasing the amount of protected areas, how these conservation policies affect the well being of individuals in nearby localities is still under debate. Using household surveys with highly disaggregated geographic reference, this study explores how national parks have affected wages and unemployment in Costa Rica for the period 2000-2007. Costa Rica’s vast and already well established conservation efforts provide a unique opportunity to evaluate these effects. Conditions in which the effects on local welfare can be positive or negative in different areas of the parks or even within social groups are shown. Also, field observations were conducted to validate the statistical analysis. It was found that wages close to parks are higher only when located close to tourists’ entrances. Also, workers close to parks but far away from tourists’ entrances earn similar wages than those workers far away from parks. Additionally, workers close to park entrances have fewer probabilities to be unemployed compared with other rural areas, meanwhile far from entrance the chances are the same. Results are robust to different econometric approaches (OLS and matching techniques) and supported by field observations. The parks’ entrance location and the possibility of agricultural workers to switch to service activities can be important tools to take advantage of the economic benefits of parks.