Gunther Holtorf’s Epic World Tour – 204 Countries in 26 Years


There are so many world-trip stories out there that you tend to miss some important ones. Like the story of Gunther Holtorf, his wife Christine, and his Mercedes G-Wagon that he named Otto. Together, this German trio travelled across 204 countries* and covered almost 900,000 km in 26 years.

Even though Christine passed away in June 2010, the then 73-year-old Gunther carried on his trip for four more years, continuing their dream of seeing the world.

The couple started in the Sahara in 1988 and travelled across Africa for five years. They went to South America next. They were in northern Iraq during the war. He has been to the Mount Everest base camp, at a height of 5,200 metres. Mercedes helped Holtorf get permits to enter each province of China. He even managed to get into Cuba and North Korea.

The only countries Holtorf did not cover are South Sudan, Somalia, Chad, Sao Tome and Principe, Cape Verde, Bahamas, Antigua and Barbuda, and the tiny nations between the Comoros Islands to Tuvalu.

They Never Sought Publicity

Holtorf was never online – he did not post pics to his Facebook feed, did not blog about the trip, or publicise their trip. He never took any sponsorship offers either, because he considered them restrictive.

Though he never wanted any publicity, the story has been covered by several large media including the BBC, and Mercedes has a microsite dedicated to the journey. In fact, Mercedes added good old Otto to their museum in Stuttgart, Germany, after the trip was over.

Holtorf did document his journey, but in the good old-fashioned way: photographs. He carried two Leica film cameras for the purpose; and his photographs are beautiful. Not only do they capture the spirit of the journey, but also represent the landscape and the people.

Gunther Holtorf’s Epic World Tour – 204 Countries in 26 Years

This short video is a slideshow of Holtorf’s photos, with his story voiced over by professional photographer David Lemke (he joined Holtorf for a section of the trip). Holtorf also speaks.

Otto, the Star

Though this was not really a continuous 26-year journey, Otto, Holtorf’s Mercedes-Benz G-Wagon, is the one that really comes out as the winner. Otto never broke down on Holtorf, thanks to his policy of preventive maintenance. “Whatever happened, I could solve it immediately and continue,” he says. The car was not electronic – this made it easier to never need a mechanic or a visit to a service centre. Holtorf says he treated Otto like it was his grandmother.

The car has seen the best and the worst roads. Holtorf says the worst roads were in Zaire (the Democratic Republic of Congo). Otto has also been in a few accidents. The biggest accident was when it rolled off the road and down a steep slope in Madagascar, just a few months before the journey was to end. Although Holtorf was unhurt, the SUV’s body suffered a tilt, and he decided to replace the body.

The interiors of Otto had been modified to accommodate sleeping facilities and store the gazillion things the car and the couple would need. Holtorf and Christine lived in the SUV and cooked their own meals everywhere they went, from locally bought items. This saved them a lot of money in restaurant and hotel bills. Their major expense was fuel and shipping from one island/continent to another.

Holtorf says he would do this all over again if he were younger, but only with Otto.

*According to the list here.

You can check out some the smaller trips

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Writer, observer, lover of stories. Expert in short-people problems, armchair travel, and overthinking. I like to think that I’m a wise woman with a pinch of quirk.