Ecosystem services programmes have been advocated for their potential to join conservation and poverty alleviation efforts, integrate working landscapes, and provide a flow of ecosystem services upon which populations rely. Ecuadorian páramo grasslands have rapidly become the focus of compensation for ecosystem services (CES) programmes intended to conserve hydrologic services, carbon sequestration and biodiversity. This paper reviews CES programmes in Ecuadorian páramos using a combination of semi-structured interviews with project personnel, policy makers and community leaders involved in CES programme development, document analysis, and archival research. Findings indicate that, in some cases, CES schemes can support local development, with potential to contribute to poverty alleviation; however, measures of programme effects on poverty were lacking. The programmes fell across the spectrum of activity-reducing to activity-enhancing, with some functioning as protected areas and others integrating working landscapes; however, designation of land as protected did not necessarily imply more restrictive use. Finally, these cases all reflect scenarios in which limited information is available linking land use with ecosystem services production and underscore the idea that adequate understanding of ecosystem production functions continues to be a barrier to development of effective programmes, particularly where the provision of multiple ecosystem services is anticipated.