Most countries have committed to protect 17% of their terrestrial area by 2020 through Aichi Target 11 of the Convention on Biological Diversity, with a focus on protecting areas of particular importance for biodiversity. This means national-scale spatial conservation prioritisations are needed to help meet this target and guide broader conservation and land-use policy development. However, to ensure these assessments are adopted by policy makers, they must also consider national priorities. This situation is exemplified by Guyana, a corner of Amazonia that couples high biodiversity with low economic development. In recent years activities that threaten biodiversity conservation have increased, and consequently, protected areas are evermore critical to achieving the Aichi targets. Here we undertake a cost-effective approach to protected area planning in Guyana that accounts for in-country conditions. To do this we conducted a stakeholder-led spatial conservation prioritisation based on meeting targets for 17 vegetation types and 329 vertebrate species, while minimising opportunity costs for forestry, mining, agriculture and urbanisation. Our analysis identifies 3 million ha of priority areas for conservation, helping inform government plans to double the current protected area network from 8.5 to 17%. As part of this, we also develop a new technique to prioritise engagement with local communities whose lands are identified as important to conservation. Our study both provides a scientifically robust, politically acceptable protected area expansion strategy for Guyana, and illustrates the importance of conservation planning at the country-scale to translate international commitments into national action.