With 21 Latina contestants in the 2012 Miss Universe pageant, this year’s competition is heating up to one the hottest ever. Hailing from countries like Mexico, Argentina, the Dominican Republic and Venezuela, the Latinas at the pageant represent some of the most beautiful and well-rounded women in the world as they compete to succeed current title holder, Leila Lopes, for the highly-coveted title of Miss Universe.

And as an international competition that prides itself on crowning brainy beauties who are “savvy, goal-oriented and aware,” here’s a look at some of the reasons we’ll be watching when the pageant is broadcast live from Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino in Las Vegas on Dec. 19 on Telemundo and NBC at 8/7 c.

Latinas are the ones to watch

The competition may host beautiful women from across the globe, but here’s a fun fact: 17 lovely Latinas have been crowned winners of the Miss Universe pageant since 1970. And more than half of all the winners in the last 20 years have been Latina, including Mexico’s Ximena Navarette (2010), Venezuela’s Stefania Fernandez (2009), Venezuelan beauty Dayana Mendoza (2009), Puerto Rico’s Zulekya Rivera (2006) and Amelia Vega from the Dominican Republic, who won the title in 2003.

Venezuela vs. Puerto Rico

No, we’re not chatting up baseball rivalries: it’s all about Venezuela vs. Puerto Rico when it comes to the pageant whose competitors are “savvy, goal-oriented and aware.” Venezuela made history in 2009 when Venezolana Dayana Mendoza handed the crown to Stefanía Fernández, making it the only country to win two consecutive wins. Even so, Puerto Rico is third just behind the United States and Venezuela when it comes to the highest number of title wins, making the competition at this year’s pageant particularly fierce.

Mexico’s most beautiful

Mexico is fifth on the list for number of wins, with titles earned in 1991 and in 2010. This year’s competitor from Mexico, Karina González is a 5’9″ beauty from Aguascalientes City in Jalisco who won Nuestra Belleza México 2011 – a beauty pageant organization directed by former beauty queen Lupita Jones. Jones won the country’s first title in 1991 and knows how to create a winner, having helped fellow Mexicana Ximena Navarette earn Miss Universe in 2010.

Colombia’s proudest moment

Miss Colombia may have only had one Miss Universe win to date, but its biggest achievement is truly jaw-dropping. The country claims a total of six wins for best National Costume Award – more than any other country.

The hot list

The United States may officially hold the highest number of Miss Universe wins since the competition began in 1952, but there are a total of five Latin countries with the highest number of titles and runner-ups: Venezuela (37), Puerto Rico (19), Brazil (30), Mexico (16) and Colombia (30).

Camila Solórzano Ayusa will be representing Argentina in the 2012 Miss Universe competition.

Yessica Mouton dreams of one day owning her own PR firm. She will be representing Bolivia.

Gabriela Markus is currently studying Food Engineering. She will be representing Brazil.

Ana Luisa Konig loves spend time outdoors walking, long boarding or surfing. She will be representing Chile.

Daniella Margarita Alvarez Vasquez has been a volunteer with over 65 charity foundations. She will be representing Colombia.

Nazareth Cascante is studying to be a pharmacist. She will be representing Costa Rica.

Dulcita Lynn Lieggi is a film fanatic that plans on going to school to study production. She will be representing Dominican Republic.

Carolina Aguirre is 20-years-old and will be representing Ecuador.

Ana Yancy Clavel is currently studying Nursery School Education. She will be representing El Salvador.

One of Alyssa Cruz Aguero’s passionate about pursuing a healthy lifesytle. She will be representing Guam.

Laura Beatríz Godoy was part of her country’s national volleyball team. She will be representing Guatemala.

Jennifer Andrade wants to pursue a career in acting or singing. She will be representing Honduras.

Karina Gonzalez wants to become an architect in order to ecologically improve construction. She will be representing Mexico.

Farah Eslaquit dreams of one day being the owner of a worldwide recognized fashion magazine. She will be representing Nicaragua.

At 26, Stephanie Vanderwerf has degrees in Advertising, PR, and Management. She will be representing Panama.

Egni Eckert is creating a foundation that provides shelter and job-training for the needy of her home country. She will be representing Paraguay.

Nicole Faveron hopes to one day have a psychology clinic to help the poor. She will be representing Peru.

Pianist and composer Bodine Koehler will be representing Puerto Rico.

At just 22 years old, Andrea Huisgen will be representing Spain.

Camila Vezzoso, an avid fan of Woody Allen, will be representing Uruguay.

Irene Sofia Quintero aspires to become an actress. She will be representing Venezuela.

- of 21