Speciation can be viewed as the evolution of restrictions on the freedom of genetic recombination: new combinations of alleles can be generated within species, but alleles from different species cannot be brought together. Recently, there has been increasing realization that the role of chromosomal rearrangements in speciation might be primarily a result of their influence on recombination. I argue that ideas about the role of recombination in speciation should be considered in the context of the variability of recombination rates and patterns more generally and that genic as well as chromosomal causes of restricted recombination should be considered. I review patterns of variation in recombination rates and theoretical progress in understanding the conditions that favour increased or decreased rates. Although progress has been made in understanding conditions that alter overall rates of recombination, widespread variation in patterns of recombination remains largely unexplained. I consider three models for the role of locally restricted recombination in speciation and the evidence currently supporting them.