Although Ecosystem restoration is widely used to combat environmental degradation, very few studies have evaluated the cost-effectiveness of this approach. We examine the potential impact of forest restoration on the value of multiple ecosystem services across four dryland areas in Latin America, by estimating the net value of ecosystem service benefits under different reforestation scenarios. The values of selected ecosystem services were mapped under each scenario, supported by the use of a spatially explicit model of forest dynamics. We explored the economic potential of a change in land use from livestock grazing to restored native forest using different discount rates and performed a cost–benefit analysis of three restoration scenarios. Results show that passive restoration is cost-effective for all study areas on the basis of the services analyzed, whereas the benefits from active restoration are generally outweighed by the relatively high costs involved. These findings were found to be relatively insensitive to discount rate but were sensitive to the market value of carbon. Substantial variation in values was recorded between study areas, demonstrating that ecosystem service values are strongly context specific. However, spatial analysis enabled localized areas of net benefits to be identified, indicating the value of this approach for identifying the relative costs and benefits of restoration interventions across a landscape.