Achieving equitable and sustainable ecotourism requires a wide range of multidisciplinary and cross-scale information, particularly given the growing scale of ecotourism operations and continuing governance and climate challenges. Ecosystems in Mexico’s Gulf of California and Baja California Peninsula support a thriving ecotourism industry that has quickly expanded over the last few decades, potentially outpacing research into current performance and future sustainable development opportunities. We develop and apply a formal literature review approach to characterize academic marine ecotourism literature, highlight key insights and identify research strengths and gaps, and thus analyse almost 50 publications for the region from 1994 to 2014. There has been a significant increase in the number of various types of publications; most (68%) focus on ecological themes, 25% on economics, and 7% on social aspects of human wellbeing. There are also trends towards research on specific species (e.g. mammals, fish and sharks) and in specific areas. A common theme in publication conclusions is the need for collaboration from all stakeholder groups. We discuss these findings, and address potential limitations of our method, with a view to informing sound policies to ensure that ecotourism can provide equitable benefits to local communities while incentivizing sustainable practices and nature conservation.