Local people's involvement in the management of conservation initiatives is central to ongoing debates on the relative merits of distinct biodiversity conservation models. Since different governance models provide distinct opportunities for local people to participate in the management of protected areas, their knowledge of these governance models and motivation to collaborate will vary. This paper analyses cognisance and participation in (1) government-imposed biosphere reserves and (2) community conservation areas, in which ecotourism projects take place. Qualitative and quantitative data (n = 205) were gathered in two indigenous communities in Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico. Whereas local cognisance of community-driven conservation initiatives is not always greater than cognisance of government-imposed Biosphere Reserves, local participation is always greater. Cognisance of and participation in conservation initiatives depend on the management approach, extent of external resource support, and a community's social organization. Gender and land holding status influence access to information about conservation initiatives, since men with land rights had more access than other people. More participatory mechanisms for decision-making and direct communication strategies between managers and local people are required to improve communities’ involvement in conservation.