Tourism has become a source of income generation for many rural communities seeking ways to improve their livelihoods. This is particularly the case of amenity-rich areas which attract tourists because of their natural endowments. Often tourism-based growth is reflected in economic and infrastructural improvements. Nevertheless, such growth, on many occasions, does not reflect development goals including equity and sustainability. This study examines the necessary elements for tourism as a development tool that improves a community's quality of life. To reach this objective, a case study methodology was applied in two rural Costa Rican communities. The study first identifies the different ways tourism impacts quality of life. It also identifies biophysical, sociocultural, and socioeconomic and sociodemographic conditions that led to divergent outcomes in each community's quality of life. Finally, the study documents the processes lying behind improvements or deteriorations of quality of life in each community. Improvements in quality of life are associated with local community ownership and development of tourism-related activities. In addition, interactional elements among stakeholders are essential, particularly among community members. Extra-local tourism development was found to be less beneficial to the local community. This was particularly the case when communities lacked the capabilities of controlling and managing change.