Increasing demands for livelihood resources in tropical rural areas have led to progressive clearing of biodiverse natural forests. Restoration of abandoned farmlands could counter this process. However, as aims and modes of restoration differ in their ecological and socio-economic value, the assessment of achievable ecosystem functions and benefits requires holistic investigation. Here we combine the results from multidisciplinary research for a unique assessment based on a normalization of 23 ecological, economic and social indicators for four restoration options in the tropical Andes of Ecuador. A comparison of the outcomes among afforestation with native alder or exotic pine, pasture restoration with either low-input or intense management and the abandoned status quo shows that both variants of afforestation and intense pasture use improve the ecological value, but low-input pasture does not. Economic indicators favour either afforestation or intense pasturing. Both Mestizo and indigenous Saraguro settlers are more inclined to opt for afforestation.