This paper scrutinises claims made about the promise and efficacy of ecosystems-based adaptation (EBA), through an exploration of EBA-relevant interventions in two fieldsites in Mexico. Our data starts to fill important gaps in current global debates about EBA. We find evidence of the important contribution of interventions relevant to EBA objectives at a small scale and under very specific conditions. However, the viability of similar interventions is substantially reduced, and arguably rendered null, as an incentive for conservation in a more populous fieldsites. Furthermore, evidence suggests that other adaptation options risked being overlooked if the context were viewed solely through the lens of EBA. We conclude that EBA needs to: a) engage with and address the trade-offs which characterised earlier attempts to integrate conservation and development, and; b) acknowledge the implications for its objectives of a globally predominant, neoliberal political economy.